Spare Key: 4 years of strikes, spares and splits


So begins my fourth year as Executive Director of Spare Key.

I write this in front of a fire at my home in St. Paul, drinking a cup of coffee and waiting for my 13-year-old Daughter to awaken so the two of us can head to Treasure Island Resort & Casino this morning.

Not to gamble.  Although, to be candid, the decision to become Spare Key’s Executive Director was perhaps the biggest gamble I’ve ever taken in my life.

No, this morning we head to Treasure Island Resort & Casino to sport a blaze orange vest with Spare Key’s logo on it and spend hours watching other people bowl and track their scores for a tournament.

It’s an interesting reflection on my life journey that I find the simple act of keeping other people’s scores as a way to raise funds and awareness for Spare Key both an enormous privilege and a gift of wonderful humility.

One of the first people I met with after becoming Spare Key’s Executive Director was Cindy Taube, Public Relations Manager for Treasure Island.  She and her organization had been supporters of Spare Key for years but if we were to grow our capacity to serve more families I needed Cindy and Treasure Island – and a lot more people and organizations like her – to believe in our vision to do just that.

Cindy had no reason to believe anything I told her.  I was just some middle-age guy who had never run a non-profit who was asking her to trust me when I told her that we were getting ready to build something pretty amazing at Spare Key.

After a couple of hours, lots of coffee and Diet Pepsi, Cindy looked at me and said she would take a chance that what we were going to do was something she wouldn’t regret supporting.

This month, at our 2016 Black Knight Financial Services Spare Key Groove Gala I am beyond proud and delighted that we will present to Treasure Island Resort & Casino and the Prairie Island Indian Community the 2016 Spare Key Derian Keech Parade of Kindness Award.

This award is the most important thing we do all year to recognize those who have given of themselves and their resources to help lead a “Parade of Kindness” for Spare Key – and more importantly, the thousands of families we’ve been able to serve.

Named after the son of our founders, Robb and Patsy Keech, the Derian Keech Parade of Kindness Award, is another symbol of the living legacy of Spare Key and a little boy named Derian who earned his Angel Wings before he grew to three years old.

Cindy’s willingness to take a chance on me and Spare Key is the story of my past four years at Spare Key.  Others took the same chance.  Cindy is and will always remain my touchstone where I knew, driving home from Treasure Island after that meeting, we were going to do amazing things for an amazing organization.

Cindy – and so many others like her – carried me throughout the past four years.  People willing to take a chance that I wouldn’t screw things up.  Who saw the value of an organization like Spare Key.

There are so many who I have met and learned from and benefitted from the past four years I know I would miss some who deserve recognition for their encouragement, investment, sacrifice and above all their steadfast support for when I succeeded – and most importantly when I did not.

Suffice to say that without each and every one of them someone other than me would be writing about their joyous journey as Spare Key’s Executive Director.

But, there is one person who does stand out, much like Cindy, in that journey.

As in Nikki Lignell, our Program Manager.  A former recipient of Spare Key, Nikki joined Spare Key in 2013.

The proud Mom of her daughter, Riley, Nikki experienced firsthand the kind grace of Spare Key’s mission long before I was around.  Thanks to the creation of Robb and Patsy Keech, and the leadership and generosity of thousands, Spare Key was able to provide Nikki and her family with a mortgage payment in March of 2011 so she could celebrate the last month of Riley’s life with her in the hospital.

I remember having a drink with Nikki and asking her what she planned to do when she grew up.  She laughed at my annoying question.

After a while of talking I told her I needed her to join Spare Key to do great things for a great many others.

Like Cindy, and hundreds of others, Nikki took a leap of faith that what I told her we could and would do would happen – but only if she and others like her were willing to take a risk.

She did.  And, where Spare Key is today, and where it will go tomorrow, is as much a testament to Nikki Lignell as it is to Robb and Patsy Keech’s decision to begin the organization 19 years ago.

Shortly, my Daughter will awaken and walk downstairs groggy and sleepy.  We will both get up and get ready for our drive down to Treasure Island to put on our orange vest with “Spare Key” imprinted on the back so we can volunteer by keeping score at a bowling tournament to help raise funds and awareness for Spare Key.

It’s a far cry from the days when I got to meet with heads of state, celebrated public officials, politicians and world leaders in Washington, D.C. and throughout the world.  And, attend events where there were countless numbers of powerful people with important jobs and important sounding titles.  Thousands of miles from a time when people called me because they wanted something from me, or reached out to me because they believed I had something important to say to them or others.

Yet, no matter how many miles away I get from those places in this journey I chose to take four years ago, I feel completely at home with where I have arrived.

I am not the perfect or best Executive Director of a non-profit in the world.  There’s a lot I have learned, but there’s a lot more I need to know and learn.  I smile, often, when I think of where I began and where I am today.

Four years ago I came back home to do what I finally know I was meant to do.

And, wearing an orange vest, keeping score at a bowling tournament, getting tips from bowlers as a way to help fund our mission, with my 13-year-old Daughter right next to me, is just one part of the very important responsibilities I have as Spare Key’s Executive Director.

I love it.

One comment

  1. Caryn Sullivan · February 7, 2016

    Sometimes it takes awhile to discover where we are meant to be. Happy for you that you’ve found your passion and your mission.


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