ARMATAGE — A Guatemalan peace worker, a Civil War hero, an Edison High School student, and the owner of Xerxes Market in Armatage all have one thing in common: heart energy.
Lisa Peterson and her husband, Hennepin County District Court Judge Bruce Peterson, got the idea to create a foundation to honor people who display heart energy when they read the famous letter Civil War General Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife days before he was killed in the Battle at Bull Run.
"My husband read that letter to me, and it was so beautiful we decided we wanted to do something in terms of honoring people who act from the heart," Lisa Peterson said. "The feeling is that there is this immense heart energy that is always operating in the world, but in the day-in-and-day-out of the crass existence of just getting all we need to do done, we sometimes don’t see the beauty of the heart energy. This foundation seeks to find it and kind of celebrate it."
The Petersons have honored 30 people since the Sullivan Ballou Foundation was formed in 2003. They gather funds with the assistance of individual contributors to award recipients with a check for $1,000.
Orhan Arpinar, Armatage resident and owner of the Xerxes Market at 55th and Xerxes Ave. S., was surprised Dec. 2 when the foundation honored him with a celebration that included 40 of his friends and family members.
"It was a shock for me. Suddenly people start flowing in; my family and neighbors were all around, I didn’t even know," Arpinar said.
Arpinar’s friends and family took turns speaking about how he has added to the neighborhood.
"One was very touching," he said. "One of the customers came in some day and he needed milk and he suddenly noticed that he didn’t have enough money, and I said, ‘you can pay me later,’ and he said he’ll never forget that."
Children who walk to Orhan’s store to buy candy came with their parents. Another young Armatage resident played an important role in the celebration. Two years ago, then 13-year-old Elise Aasan nominated Arpinar when she overheard the Petersons discussing its mission.
"She piped up and said, ‘Oh, if you’re talking about that, the perfect person is Orhan.’ We laughed and we thought, ‘You know what? You nailed it, you’re right,’" Lisa Peterson said.
Aasan nominated Arpinar for the way he interacts with each of his customers.
"He greets you, he knows the children by name, he understands where you work and what you do. He is the essence of community at work," Lisa Peterson said.
Collin Cousins, a student at Macalester College, who grew up a couple blocks away from Xerxes Market, said he saw Arpinar nearly every Saturday when he and his brother bought milk for their family.
"It’s fun to think that I’ve known the man who’s selling me my milk or ice cream for 15 or so years," he said. "I feel like his business reduces the elitist air that Southwest Minneapolis and Edina has."
The Petersons honor people who foster a sense of community by demonstrating love and forgiveness.
Through a family friend, the Petersons learned about a Guatemalan peace worker, who the foundation honored in 2006.
Chona Hacot Sosof risked her life by smuggling children in the trunk of her car to bring them to safety.
In October the foundation honored Edison High School student Shanice Nelson, who founded an organization to work toward peace and healing. Nelson formed North Side Youth Standup after several of her friends were murdered in North Minneapolis, Lisa Peterson said.
"We look for people who are embedded in the community and not particularly highlighted. We want to highlight the fact that in life you don’t want to overlook the source of your emotional nurturing," Lisa Peterson said. "All of these people are peacemakers."
Arpinar was deeply moved by a letter he received from the Petersons at the celebration honoring him.
"… No one is more important than those people who connect with their neighbors directly from the heart, who make people feel welcomed and understood, who create a space of kindness and warmth," it reads. "You are that kind of person. Your store is a warm haven in a cold commercial world. Children feel safe and happy there. ..
"We are certain that your store and your presence there has made this South Minneapolis neighborhood a sweeter place to live. …"
Arpinar explained how he creates a welcoming environment.
"My philosophy is that I don’t see the people who come to my store as customers; I feel like we’re friends," Arpinar said. "I always keep a smile on my face. It’s not only for business, but it comes from my heart. I like to make a face-to-face connection with people, and I know this is very important."
Arpinar has struggled to stay in business recently because of competition from a Holiday Station store across the stret. He also believes the current economic climate has caused him to lose business.
"I love to see corner stores, but unfortunately they are disappearing because of the gas stations and the big grocery stores. I am so lucky to have a lot of regular customers. I always say I didn’t make any money in this business but I made a lot of good friends," Arpinar said.
The financial burden he faces, however, continues to take its toll, he said.
"I work over 100 hours a week. I had six or seven part-time people three or four years ago but I had to lay them off. At the moment, I go one day at a time."
Arpinar hopes neighborhood support will help keep the Xerxes Market open.
"As long as people give me the business, I like to serve them back. Of course, I need a lot of support. I understand people go to Cub Foods, even I go to Cub Foods, but if every family keeps one or two items for me, I’ll stay here," Arpinar said.
Arpinar immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in 1994 to be closer to his brother’s family. He purchased the Xerxes Market in 1997.
"This is a beautiful neighborhood, there are beautiful human beings here," Arpinar said. "I’m grateful to be here and be part of the community."