MinnAqua educator Roland Sigurdson brought fun to environmental education and everything else

For fifteen years, DNR MinnAqua supervisor Roland Sigurdson occupied an office cube at the Water Resources Center. A scan of his desk and walls reveals a life in balance. The displays are remarkably focused, reflecting his love of family, friends, fun, education and fishing. His wife Stacey and daughter Natalie beam from multiple photos, there are childhood pictures of Roland and his siblings on the farm, images of Roland the educator before groups of fascinated children, and lots and lots of fish.

When Roland died suddenly on April 30, he left behind a legacy so far-reaching it is difficult to imagine it being generated by a single person. In his work as DNR MinneAqua program supervisor, his influence radiated like water ripples from a bobber, as he mentored interns, fished with Minnesota governors and University presidents, taught city kids the joy of fishing and became the go-to fishing guy for local media.

The MinnAqua program began in 2003 with the goal of teaching urban children to fish and through that interaction, learn environmental stewardship. Gifted with childlike enthusiasm and an infectious appreciation of the natural world, Roland was perfectly suited to mentoring young people. Like his fishing pole, humor and play were key components in Roland's curriculum. Picture after picture shows him holding the rapt attention of school children, as well as adults. Roland summed up his teaching philosophy this way: “The most rewarding times are when our program is instrumental in helping an adult and a child connect to the new activity of fishing that they enjoy together. Time on the water together leads to understanding of the resource they enjoy, participation in environmental stewardship, and fun.”

MinnAqua interns who signed on to learn about aquatic ecology and present fishing programs to children and families gained intangible lessons beyond their imagining. Former intern Chai Xiong wrote on Sigurdson’s Facebook wall: “you will continue to live and strive on and touch our hearts yet again with your kindness and wisdom that you've left on all of us. I thank you with the utmost respect . . for your inspiration and wisdom you have given me.”

Jenifer Wical, Roland’s supervisor at DNR, noted the personal qualities that made Roland’s environmental stewardship message accessible to a wide variety of audiences: “Roland had the heart of a child, the mind of a master, the empathy of your best friend, and the skills of an artisan. Laughter and a bounce that impersonated the best of any animated film yet effortlessly held the inquisitive attention of young and old.”

Master teacher, angler, farmer, blacksmith, environmental steward, brother, son, friend, husband, and father. In all his roles, Roland never lost sight of his mission: having fun, and passing it on.

Roland Sigurdson

“Remember, the goal is to have fun.” Roland Sigurdson, MinnAqua education coordinator with the DNR. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources press release, April 24, 2014, “How to introduce a kid to fishing.”

By Christine Hansen, Minnegram editor