Story 1 – Our Founder, Chester Tollefson

Aug 4, 2021

Loring Tollefson with his parents, Gladys and Chester Tollefson

Rise founder Chester Tollefson has a simple way of describing our first days.

“[It took] a little concern and a little cooperation. Here we are 50 years later and Rise is still operating,” Tollefson said.

We sat down with Tollefson, 98, son Dave Tollefson, and daughter Joyce Tollefson-Capp to talk about our beginnings and learn more about the family’s efforts to support Loring Tollefson, who was born with intellectual disabilities.

“Loring was a young person who loved to laugh and smile and he loved people. He was stubborn and determined, but he loved to have fun,” Joyce Tollefson-Capp said. “As parents, my mom and dad just wanted a safe place for Loring to be. And Rise provided that. Not only for him, but for multiple generations.”

When Loring was 16 years old, Chester Tollefson and his wife Gladys started talking about Loring’s future. They wanted him to have positive experiences after high school and were concerned by the absence of options other than Minnesota’s institutional system, which at that time was where many disabled people lived isolated from family, friends and opportunities.

“There was the institution at Cambridge, but we thought Loring was better physically than to be involved in Cambridge, just sitting and doing nothing. I thought, ‘There’s things he can do,’” said Tollefson.

Anoka County community leaders worked with the family to create an alternative. With their cooperation Rise opened in Spring Lake Park on August 2, 1971, serving four people with disabilities. Over the past 50 years we have expanded to support hundreds of people each year with disabilities or challenges in Minnesota and western Wisconsin communities. Rise’s original location which served Loring and others continues to serve people today. It is also home to our administrative offices.

“He enjoyed having a place to go to work and meet his friends. He just loved the place. It was part of his home,” Tollefson said.

Loring Tollefson died in 2002. His mother Gladys died in 2013. While the Tollefson family and early community members provided the foundation for Rise to be successful, the family believe Rise has thrived due to the committed and compassionate work of our team members.

“They had a vision for Loring and his friends, but it’s you folks who took the charge and developed this program for all these people,” said Dave Tollefson.

Concern and cooperation continue to be at the core of our mission. As a pioneer of the person-centered support model, we believe there are opportunities for all individuals to live a life filled with purpose.

“They are able to take a person and see what is inside of them and bring out that strength as they empower them with different jobs,” Tollefson-Capp said.