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Since day one, volunteer helps lead charge to elect Stauber

Henry Korpela of Mountain Iron is a dedicated volunteer for the Pete Stauber campaign. "I would do anything for Pete," said Korpela during a recent visit to Stauber's Hermantown campaign headquarters. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

This is one of three profiles highlighting volunteers for the three candidates in the race to represent Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. You can read about a volunteer with DFL candidate Joe Radinovich's campaign here or a volunteer with Independence Party candidate's Ray "Skip" Sandman's campaign here. Read the introduction to the series here.

Henry Korpela has driven in more than 30 parades this election season.

At the helm of the lead car guiding the Pete Stauber campaign in this year's parades, he drives the first car because his lack of hearing isn't affected by the loud sound system sitting on the back of the vehicle.

"He's deaf anyways," said his wife, Lyndah.

Korpela has been volunteering for the Republican candidate since day one of his campaign. It may only be his second election he's volunteered for, but his interest in politics was sparked decades prior to 2016.

In the early 1980s, Korpela had a coworker who traveled to the nation's capital to watch how politicians ran things. He said she was excited to see the inner workings of Washington, D.C.. But when she returned on vacation, her preemptive glee had faded to despondency.

He said she was a different person.

"She was crestfallen," Korpela said. "She said 'Henry, they don't care about us, they could care less. They were just happy to spend our money, our tax money.'"

Memories like that have resonated with the 74-year-old. But when he encountered then-candidate Donald Trump's message "drain the swamp," he found an outlet for his frustration. It's why his political activism was catalyzed in 2016 and it's why that commitment has continued into the 8th Congressional District race.

"The Democrats come with a lot of sweet talk, but Pete Stauber, he's done so much," said the ex-miner. "He's been on all sides. He's owned businesses, he was a police officer, president of the police union, county commissioner. He's done it all."

It's the experiences, and lack thereof, outside of politics that matter to Korpela. He doesn't like that DFL candidate Joe Radinovich has only worked in politics. "He's never lived the real life, never tried to start a business," he said.

Korpela lives in Mountain Iron but he's originally from Markham, a little community south of Aurora. A miner since 1966, he was promoted to supervisor in 1969. Years later he found himself working for an engineering company, training and consulting workers at mines around the world. His job took him to Peru, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and India. Despite those world travels, he's remained tied to his roots in northern Minnesota, where he retired in 2010.

Since then, he and his wife have been tethered to the hip in their volunteering, which includes both political and charity work. His service as president of the Hibbing Toastmasters Club, which assists in communication and leadership development, has trained his eye to watch out for honest speakers.

"He (Pete) is so easy to talk to. He knows the right things to do and say," Korpela said. "He remembers things have happened. He's super in that way."

Korpela said he'd do "anything for Pete" to help him win. He's driven many miles, not just in parades, in campaigning for Stauber. Those miles have led him to fundraising events, meet-and-greets and door-knocking.

During those events, he's had many voters show him a thumbs up, implying which direction they plan on leaning on the ballot this year. But between those public expressions, he also hears shameful whispers of commitment to the Republican as well. He said people have told him their families would be disappointed in their vote.

"Don't be ashamed of what you're doing, let people know who and why you're doing it," said Korpela. "If you're voting Republican, you should be proud of it. You should be proud of whoever you're voting for."

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