Keeping the wheels turning at Newgate


Newgate’s St. Paul roots still support school.

A thriving school just over the border from St. Anthony Park credits two businesses in that neighborhood for much of its success. Newgate Education Center, which trains unemployed and underemployed adults to become mechanics and auto body specialists, has had a long-standing relationship with Park Service and Park Midway Bank.

Ron Severson, who founded Newgate in 1975, said the school’s 18-year connection with the bank has been invaluable. The relationship began in 1989, when a loan from the bank helped Newgate move from its original location on Dale Street to its current facility at 2900 E. Hennepin Ave.

“They’ve been our sole bank and financial advisor and have always been available to help us whenever we needed it,” Severson said, crediting Terri Fleming, Park Midway Bank’s senior vice president, with helping Newgate get $1.4 million for their 8,000 square-foot training facility three years ago.

“Terri did most of the work to get us the loan, providing advice and helping us get the mortgage,” he said.

Said Fleming, “Our mission really has to do with improving the urban community, and that fits so well with the mission of Newgate since they’re training people to go out into the work force and earn a decent wage once they’ve completed the program.”

To provide automotive training, Newgate depends on donated vehicles, many of which come from surrounding neighborhoods. Severson said that over the last 10 years, residents in the 55108 zip code have donated an average of 60 cars a year to the school.

Some of those donors have been referred by Park Service. Ned Wesenberg, the station’s owner, said it’s nice to be able to give his customers an option when they’re faced with unexpected repair costs.

“That’s not easy to tell your customers,” he said. “But to tell them I have an alternative for you where you can get a tax deduction, and these guys are nice enough to come and get it, whereas other places won’t — it can ease their frustration some.”

Wesenberg’s business depends on fixing cars. But, he says, “as car owners we know there sometimes comes a point when it’s a better investment to switch to something newer, safer and more fuel-efficient. So then they see the advantage in donating their cars while they’re still usable. And since they’re giving to a good cause, everyone wins.”

Part of what makes donating to Newgate a good cause is the school’s Wheels for Women program, through which it gives about 50 repaired vehicles a year to low-income single mothers. Since the program’s inception, nearly 600 cars have been provided.

Last year, Newgate added a Fix It for Families program, which provides car repair for low-income families referred by social services agencies.

Severson said the benefits of these programs work both ways.

“Our students learn they’re not just using their skills to provide a living for themselves and their families but are able to contribute to the community in an even broader sense,” he said. “This builds a self-concept that they’ve got a lot to contribute and that doing the work they do helps other people. That carries over to how they feel about the world, other people and their place in it.”

Although Newgate both depends on and practices generosity, there’s nothing generous about the school’s expectations of its students. Auto body training takes an average of 18 months to complete, and auto mechanics is a 12-14-month program.

“We think they’re really equipped,” said Severson. “We won’t certify a student until they’ve shown a good work record.”

Newgate’s reputation for demanding excellence of its students hasn’t hurt enrollment, Severson said, noting that the school always has a waiting list.

“It’s a healthy environment,” he said. “They’re enthusiastic about what they’re learning here. And they can look toward a real career job with real pay and a real future.”

Newgate welcomes donated vehicles and inquiries about its programs. For more information, call 612-378-0177 or visit