Gerald Nolte’s wide world of teaching

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Many people, when they reach retirement age, decide that they’ve worked enough. They’re ready for golf, reading, puttering around the house. Not so for Gerald Nolte.

After his retirement from teaching agricultural economics for 30 years at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Nolte, a St. Anthony Park resident, decided to volunteer as a consultant to Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA). On April 30, he received the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) Impact Award in Washington, D.C., for his work overseas, particularly for his assistance to a nascent farmers’ cooperative in Sudan.

Nolte’s work in Sudan began after the Natabo farmers in southern Sudan started working together as a loose band of friends practicing traditional agriculture. They received technical assistance from ACDI/VOCA volunteers, who taught them to view farming as a business and helped them with agricultural marketing.

When they were ready to officially form a cooperative association, Nolte flew to Sudan. He taught them about gardening on a large scale and encouraged them to get bigger. He advised them about how to set up a co-op and develop a set of by-laws, policies and objectives. He helped them with cash-flow and net-income projections.

Thirty members signed on to uphold the constitution of the Natabo Farmers Association, and a month later the association was formally registered. Because the enthusiasm and hard work the farmers exhibited during Nolte’s visit continued after he left, the farmers and their families have experienced great economic success and an improved standard of living.

They now have a steady income because they grow more than one crop, with planting staggered to provide a continuous harvest. In just one year, total member earnings tripled and more than half the group doubled their net returns. Some members have been able to renovate their homes and provide further education for their children.
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Nolte, a graduate of the University of Illinois with a doctorate from the University of Minnesota, taught farm financial management, commodity marketing, cooperative enterprise, statistics and other related subjects.

His first foreign assignment was as a representative of the U.S. Department of Labor to post-Franco Spain in 1980. There he helped increase the U.S. presence and promote democracy by meeting with leaders of producer and consumer cooperatives in many cities. After that he traveled about once a year, holding seminars or leading student study tours.

When he retired in 2000, Nolte jumped into volunteer work. He travels at least twice a year for up to four weeks, teaching cooperative principles and practices, small business management and how to improve existing practices. He has visited Ethiopia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guyana, Paraguay, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Germany, Indonesia, Vietnam, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and, of course, Sudan. He says he’ll do it “until they put me in the box.”

Nolte believes strongly that we don’t do enough for and with other countries. Nonetheless, he is pleased to see that there are many well-educated, professional and talented people willing to volunteer their time through the umbrella of the United States Agency for International Development. VEGA, the agency Nolte is involved with, is a consortium of 16 economic growth volunteer organizations that collectively have assisted over 140 countries by sending out over 67,000 volunteer experts to help promote economic growth in developing and transition economies.

Nolte also values the relationships, some ongoing, that he establishes with people in other countries. One such relationship has facilitated his neighbor’s adopted sons’ visit to their native country of Paraguay this summer, where they will help out with a music program.

Nolte’s most recent trip was to Russia on May 25. What will you do with your retirement?