As local city council members will confirm, it takes a certain amount of community pride and passion to dedicate yourself to governing in a small town. Of course, it helps if you were born and raised in the area, much like Andrew Rudlang, who is the youngest member of the Jenkins City Council.
Rudlang is a 2009 graduate of Pine River-Backus High School and a member of the Jenkins City Council since May 2017. Rudlang said he was “coerced” into applying for the open seat when former council member Tim Hidde moved out of Jenkins in 2017, thus leaving an open council seat.
Rudlang uses similar language to describe how he was convinced to become a mentor and coach for the Pine River-Backus robotics team, though he seems to enjoy both positions.
“I think that's part of my life, where I'm trying out a bunch of different things and seeing what I like and what I'm good at and what I can do other than just being a person who lives in Jenkins and owns a home and goes to work and back,” Rudlang said.
He finds that being a part of the council has its challenges.
“There's definitely things I enjoy and there's definitely challenges,” he said. “I find it a little bit difficult to keep up with everything and work a full-time job. Most of our council members are either retired or self employed and have a great deal of flexibility with their schedules as a result. I worry sometimes I don't have as much time as I should to put towards it.”
In spite of minor uncertainties, Rudlang has contributed to many discussions on the council since joining, including important conversations about road work projects and city ordinances. One could say Rudlang's decision to join the council is a result of living his adult life in Jenkins, whereas it was his upbringing in Pine River that led him to get involved with the Pine River-Backus robotics team.
Rudlang has a sister and two brothers (twins). They lived their entire lives outside of Pine River on County Road 1.
“We rode around on old beat-up three-wheelers and dirt bikes and had a good time, but I always had a strong interest in computers,” Rudlang said.
His uncle likely set him on the path that led to his adult career as a software engineer at GrowthZone in Nisswa. It all started with a Radioshack Tandy computer.
“It was a plastic box with a keyboard that you plugged into a TV set,” Rudlang said. “It used BASIC, the programming language. He dropped that off with two books that went with it. I hooked it up and started copying examples of the code and the books and reading through things.”
Rudlang learned programming and toyed with that computer until a little puff of smoke came out of it, and by then he was hooked. In school he took a particular interest in continuing to learn programming. He was a part of the Pine River-Backus School group called The Associates, a student tech group that specialized in networking, setting up microphones and other tech related needs for the school. He attended Central Lakes College as a post-secondary student for his general credits, followed by Bemidji State University where he honed his skills in computer programming.
“I think it's a miracle that (computers) work knowing as much as I learned in school and college about what makes them tick,” Rudlang said. “I can't believe any of these things even work half of the time, but we kind of stand on the shoulders of giants and it's amazing what they can do.”
At BSU he met his wife, Kiah, through dance club, and together they made their home in Jenkins. Around the same time they married Rudlang received a phone call from Mike Shetka at Pine River-Backus School. They had met while Rudlang worked with The Associates. Shetka asked Rudlang to mentor students in the robotics club.
“Mike contacted me. He wasn't sure if I still lived in the area or not, but they had gotten to the point where they had decided to be more adventurous with what they were doing,” Rudlang said.
Though the students were doing well on their own, Rudlang agreed to help them to expand their understanding of programming, a vital part of building a robot. He had to ask for special scheduling for two months during the competition season to allow the coaching to work with his career.
“They agreed at work for me to get up early and get to work early so I could be here and work on this,” Rudlang said.
Juggling work, a city council seat and coaching with the robotics team is a challenge, but Rudlang manages it, which shows how much energy and passion a person can find when contributing to their hometown community.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.