Skip navigation

You are here

CST Advisory Council

The Advisory Council of the Center for Small Towns (CST) exists to support the CST staff and programs by serving as advocates, identifying resources, and participating in discussions designed to improve the organization’s structure, services and external relationships. Please take a moment and get to know our talented Advisory Council which provides insight, guidance, and support for our work.

Les Heen

Pioneer Public Television

Les Heen is President and General Manger of Pioneer Public Television in Appleton, Minnesota. Before joining Pioneer in 2007, Les served as Communications and Public Affairs Director for Minnesota Farmers Union in St. Paul. His experience in media and government relations also includes four years as director of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association’s Legislative Network, and six years as a Committee Administrator for the Minnesota State Senate. He began his broadcast career in journalism more than 20 years ago as a writer and reporter for KARE Television in the Twin Cities. Les lives near Maynard with his wife, Barbara, and two sons, Christopher and Erik.

Dawn Hegland

Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission

Ms. Hegland has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology, Environmental Science, and Secondary Education from Concordia College in Moorhead. She has been with the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission since 1994 and has worked with many program areas including community development, economic development, natural resources, transportation and tourism development. She continues to work on new initiatives throughout the region as requested by the RDC’s governing board which is made up of city, township and county elected officials. Some of the recent projects include renewable energy, local food development, bike trails, parks, entrepreneurship, interpretation, and community revitalization.

Dawn lives along the Minnesota River in beautiful Lac qui Parle County on the family farm with her husband Ed and three children; Grace, Evan, and Elias. They love to travel, hike, garden, cook, golf, play music and camp.


Blaine Hill

City of Morris

Blaine Hill took over as the City Manager of Morris in September of 2007. Prior to that he was the City Clerk Treasurer in Breckenridge, Minnesota from 1990 to 2007. Hill grew up in Morris, Minnesota and graduated from Morris High School in 1977. He attended Willmar Vocational School and graduated with an associate’s degree in accounting. He then went to work for the City of Morris as an accountant. Hill began attending classes at the University of Minnesota Morris and graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a major concentration in local and state government. Hill has served as a member of the Minnesota National Guard and Army Reserves, currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and teaches military leadership and operations at the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Snelling. He has served as the President of the League of Minnesota Cities and the UMM Alumni Association. He is married and has two daughters.

Arne Kildegaard

Professor, University of Minnesota, Morris 

Arne Kildegaard is currently the Chair of the Division of Social Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM). Kildegaard received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas, his M.A. from the University of Chicago and his B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College. He is also a former director of the Center of Small Towns. Kildegaard’s expertise lies in environmental and natural resource economics, economics of renewal energy systems and in economic development.

He is a member of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics, the American Economics Association, and several related organizations. His research has been published in Energy Policy, The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, and the Journal of Economic Literature, among other professional outlets.

Arne Kildegaard

Bob Kopitzke

Chair, Stevens County Board of Commissioners

Bob Kopitzke currently serves as the District 1 Stevens County Commissioner. As a County Commissioner, he serves on a variety of committees and boards that he believes will enhance the quality of life in Stevens County and Minnesota. Bob grew up in Stevens County and attended the University of Minnesota, Morris. After college, he co-owned a family business which led him to a business management opportunity in the Metro area where he later started his own small commercial and residential concrete business. After living in the Metro area for a number of years, Bob decided to return to Stevens County and because of his desire to become involved in the community, he ran for County Commissioner.

Ryan Pesch

University of Minnesota, Extension

Ryan Pesch, an Extension Educator in Community Economics based in Fergus Falls, MN, has developed and delivered Extension Community Economics programming in northwest and west central Minnesota since 2004. He has delivered business retention and expansion programming, retail trade analysis and small stores success workshops. Pesch has also developed public finance programming with Department of Applied Economics faculty, and adapted the Access ECommerce program to the needs of direct farm marketers. At the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, he researched case studies of rural knowledge and industry clusters, and researched and hosted regional planning meetings for economic development planning coming from the West Central Initiative. In addition to experience in teaching and rural development, Ryan has experience in sustainable agriculture as an intern, an independent farmer/business owner and a grocer.

Wendy Merrick

Program Director, West Central Initiative

Wendy Merrick is the Program Director with West Central Initiative, a regional community foundation that serves nine counties in west central Minnesota. The administration of WCI's grant programs falls under Wendy's responsibilities, including associated planning and evaluation activities. Wendy grew up in the Ashby area, and being highly motivated by place returned to the region after receiving a degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Iowa State University. Her professional interests include community leadership, workforce development and promoting family economic success.

Melissa Persing

4-H Program Director, Minnesota Extension Service

Melissa Persing is the University of Minnesota Extension 4-H Program Director in Traverse County. She has worked in youth and community development for 24 years in west central and southwest Minnesota. Melissa graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris with a BA in Liberal Arts for the Human Services and an MA in Education with a concentration in Youth and Family Studies. She enjoys living in Wheaton with her husband and four children.

Holly Witt

Lakes Country Service Cooperative 

Holly Witt graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in the 1980’s with a BA Degree in Liberal Arts for the Human Services and a minor in Communications. Since her graduation from UMM, she has served in a number of nonprofit organizations most notably as Executive Director of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce for 6 years. She also has experience in the business arena as a mortgage lender and as a real estate agent. Holly is the Assistant Manager of Member Services at Lakes Country Service Cooperative, focusing on nonprofit, city and county members. She is a graduate of the Blandin Community Leadership Program and a member of the Morris Library Foundation Advisory Committee.

Michele Anderson

Rural Program Director, Fergus Falls 218-531-1594

Programs: All Rural Programs

Music (classical piano, teaching) and Administration (community development). Michele Anderson is a composer, creative writer and pianist with a BA in Music from Lewis and Clark College, and an MA in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College, where she was awarded the inaugural Rory Turner Prize in Cultural Sustainability. In 2015, Michele was selected by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits for their Catalytic Leader Award.