If you run in certain circles, you'll run into these two. “That becomes a joke, 'Oh I’ve seen both Van Daeles today,'" said Kate Van Daele.
She is the public information officer for the City of Duluth, and Scott Van Daele is director of distributive services at CHUM.
Sitting on their living room couch, Scott wore a hooded sweatshirt and orange crew socks. Kate sat next to him in a blazer and a sleek green dress. “We are polar opposites,” she said, but their dedication to service brought them together in work and beyond.
Minnesota-born Kate was employed as a case manager at a homeless youth organization in Denver. Before Scott started in a marketing position there, Kate recalled having a weird feeling in her gut.
And, when he walked in on his first day: “I couldn’t finish my sentence. I looked at him and I was like, ‘I am in serious trouble,’” she recalled.
They were friends and colleagues first, from very different backgrounds.
She grew up with push mowers, snowmobiles and canoe camp. He went to tennis camp and visited Hawaii for Christmas. But their shared ideals, values and passion for serving others brought them together, Scott said.
Kate soon switched over to grants compliance work, and Scott felt called to focus on work with the populations he served. He soon left the nonprofit to launch a grassroots food recovery business, We Don’t Waste, that would eventually grow to work with Microsoft, the NFL and Major League Baseball in Denver.
And while they were no longer direct co-workers, they remained on the same team.
Kate wrote the nonprofit application for We Don’t Waste, and Scott started donating to a public housing organization she worked for. They spotted the gaps they knew each other could fill, she said.
“Kate and I are very, very good problem-solvers. That’s how we connected and continue to connect; we help each other solve the city or the world or whatever problems may arise,” Scott said.
After a trip to visit Kate’s parents in Minnesota, they stopped in Duluth — and the rest was history. Somewhere in between, they married, they moved. They now have a dog, Nala; a son, Colton; and an Endion neighborhood home.
Working in the community, their paths do cross professionally.
She told her group about the potential conflict, but they moved forward. The result was free asbestos cleanup, a paint donation from Sherwin Williams, tables and benches designed by Loll, and $50,000 in money or donations for the project. This was about making the largest food shelf in our community more inviting for those who rely on the services, donors and volunteers, she said.
Working closely in nonprofits, government and grants, they have always been transparent. When Scott was hired at CHUM, Kate, already working in grants compliance for the city, signed a disclosure agreement recognizing the conflict of interest. To this day, she works closely with CHUM leaders Lee Stuart or Deb Holman to address services needed.
“This is a power couple that is doing really incredible things in our community, and I think we need to celebrate that,” said Sally Trnka of Duluth.
Trnka met Kate when they worked on Trnka’s Duluth School Board campaign. Today, she is a family friend, and the godmother to Colton Van Daele.
“Scott is a quiet force and brings such dedication to the work that he does. … Kate is very much the same way. You see her in press conferences, and she carries herself with such integrity,” Trnka said.
The Van Daeles moved here in 2016 with their arms open and have put their values and their practices into this community in ways that have made Duluth a better place. “They are part of new endeavors that strengthen the social fabric of our community,” Trnka said.
The Van Daeles said they’re continuously impressed by the area’s willingness to help.
Scott recalled a donor paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for a food shelf van. There’s another story about asking for bottled water in the morning, and having that request met, and then some, by the afternoon.
Living in California and Denver, you never really know your neighbors, he said. But here, he can walk their dog 20 blocks, and someone will recognize her. The environment and the attitudes in the community are why they bought a house here, why they decided to have a child here, Kate said.
There are times their fast-paced jobs affect their relationship and the amount of time they’re able to spend together.
In Denver, Scott was on call often with We Don’t Waste, taking calls in the middle of the night about a missing load, or a tipped semi on the highway. Now, Scott has more flexibility in his role at CHUM, and for Kate: “I never really know when there’s going to be a fire in the middle of the night, when there will be a water main break or when a blizzard is going to happen,” she said.
Their work, then and now, comes with a certain sense of powerlessness, a lesson that took 20 years to learn, Scott said. What helps him is to focus on what he can control.
"They laugh the way I cut the grass, the fact that I vacuum all the time and the dishes can’t drip-dry," he said, but knowing what to expect within the four walls at home brings a sense of calm, he said.
Being experienced in similar work and similar fields, they bounce ideas off each other and help each other process. No one else in her family system understands the dynamic of her job, Kate said. Scott was employed as an information specialist for the Parks and Recreation department for the City of Los Angeles.
He offers guidance and insight, but listening and providing honest feedback is a go-to way of supporting his partner.
She tries to make him laugh when he's having a bad day.
A lot of people go at half-steam, Scott said, but Kate has always had determination, and early on, he sensed a true partnership between them.
“He makes it really easy to constantly know that he’s my person. We work really well together, and when we don’t, we figure it out," she said.