A Neighbor’s Helping Hand

Written by: Brady Drake

A cup of sugar, shoveling a driveway in the winter and dog sitting are all examples of a neighbor offering a helping hand. Vernae Hasbargen went a few steps further in providing her neighbor, Leah Dalton, with a few valuable lessons and mentorship that have lasted her a lifetime.

“I was actually lucky enough to watch Leah’s family for about two generations of farm families,” Hasbargen said. “It was a beautiful thing watching the parents adopt Leah. They had wanted children for so long. Every child should begin life with such an advantage of having loving parents like Leah’s and that’s what I was lucky enough to witness as her next-door neighbor.”

The relationship between Dalton and Hasbargen began to take shape when Hasbargen hired Dalton to mow their lawn at the age of 13.

“I had never mowed a lawn before in my life,” Dalton said. “Even living out at the farm I’d never done it. They had a very nice John Deere riding mower and I managed to run over a very large branch on the first day. The very next day, they told me, ‘we actually hired your cousin to mow the lawn, we’d like you to do some cleaning in the house.’ “

Thankfully, that didn’t stop the mutually beneficial relationship from blossoming. Hasbargen had to travel often for her job as a political lobbyist for the rural schools of Minnesota and her husband, a farmer, needed help around the house due to his demanding workload, meaning Dalton was a huge help to the family.

“When she was home, there were times where I would bike over to her house and she had made lunch for her husband and the team of farmhands,” Dalton said. “So, I would eat lunch while I was on the clock and then I would help her do the dishes and she would give me a set of tasks to do.”

Did You Know?

71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs.

She used to wear this denim shirt and pull her hair back when I was kid. Back then, I remembered thinking she looked just like Martha Stewart. When I went to work for her, she cooked all of this stuff that was fancy, in my mind because I can’t cook and I thought ‘wow, this woman can do everything, that’s what I want to be like.’ I thought I was living next to Martha Stewart.” – Leah Dalton

“Yes, she has been a mentor to me, but I also see her as a very significant role model,” Dalton said. “Growing up in a rural town, there are not a lot of businesswomen to look up to. And being able to see someone so confident and so respected and really good at what she did was really inspiring. For me, that’s where things started. It was the best job I could have asked for.”

At that same time is when Hasbargen developed real care for Dalton. However, Dalton began to take a real interest in her professional development as she moved on past high school.

“She went on to attend the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) and immediately grew into a leadership role on campus,” Hasbargen said. “That’s when I really began to take an interest in her. That made me realize how special her career was going to be because that’s when she started doing uncommon things for her age.”

At NDSCS, Dalton was part of student leadership and as part of that, she would travel with her fellow classmates to different schools and speak with them about different things going on in the larger, overarching North Dakota education system. On one occasion, NDSCS was hosting one of these events and Dalton invited Hasbargen as a keynote speaker at the event.

“That was really special,” Hasbargen. “Throughout that time, we tried to really watch each other from afar and kept in touch. I wouldn’t say it was quite a direct mentorship relationship yet, but it was developing.”

However, that journey to college was aided by Hasbargen and her husband who gave Dalton a scholarship to attend college.

“That really meant a lot,” Dalton said. “That’s encouraging to feel that type of support. Growing up, my parents were always telling me how great I was and being really supportive, but when you see it from someone else, it’s really significant.”

Naturally, the relationship has continued as Dalton has progressed into the professional world.

“We don’t really have a formal cadence to our relationship, but whenever I’ve needed her or had something significant happening in my life, she has always been there,” Dalton said. “I never really even saw myself as a mentor to her,” Hasbargen added. “It’s very touching though and it means a lot for me to be considered that.

” When Dalton was working at her first job out of college, she experienced what many recent college graduates do— she found herself taking on everything.

“You get that job and you really want to put your best foot forward,” Dalton said. “In trying to do that, I was working too many hours a week and had too much on my plate. I called Vernae and I really needed validation that it was okay to leave a job that I was making decent money with and something that I felt relatively successful with. I felt really accomplished having earned that role at the age I was at, so it was really hard to leave. But, I felt like it was something I needed to do for my family and for my mental health. Vernae made me feel very encouraged. She let me know that I’d be fine and that I could do that.”

Dalton and Hasbargen share another personal connection as well with both having given birth at a young age. Dalton had her child early on in college, and, not surprisingly, Hasbargen was there to offer support and guidance.

“I was very lucky to have the support of so many friends and family members at that point in my life,” Dalton said.

As for what Hasbargen thinks of Dalton.

“Leah really just needs to be herself because she’s great,” Hasbargen said. “I’m really proud of the skillset that she has developed because she is way ahead of a lot of people her age.”

I’ve really tried to model her and some of the things she has been able to do. She has been very invested in not only education but also nonprofits. Because of her, it has been on my bucket list to serve on the board of a nonprofit, and for the last three years, I’ve served on the Town and Country Credit Union board. She has also been very engaged in politics, and that’s something that’s very important to me. Recently, she has been serving on the board for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and I believe that is something super significant, to be doing something somewhat controversial and being a real advocate for women.”

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.