Inspired: Profiles and conversations with notable Minneapolitans
When Alan Page steps down from the Minnesota Supreme Court in August after serving on the bench since 1993, he’ll devote more time to his foundation that provides scholarships to young people of color throughout the state.
Since launching the Page Education Foundation with his wife Diane in 1988, the North Loop-based organization has awarded more than 9,000 scholarships to students worth collectively more than $12 million. The foundation raises money from corporations, foundations and individuals for the scholarships.
The couple started the foundation the same year Page was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. The former Vikings star, who was part of the team’s famous defensive line known as the Purple People Eaters, played in the NFL for 15 years. He earned his law degree in 1978 from the University of Minnesota while he was playing football.
Page, a southwest Minneapolis resident, has to step down from the state Supreme Court because he’ll hit the mandatory retirement age of 70 in August.
“I have been incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to serve the people of this state as a justice on our court,” he said during a recent interview. “I will be forever grateful for that.”
Page said he was inspired to pursue a career in law as a child growing up in Canton, Ohio. He was 9 years old when the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case declaring separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.
“I read about it, was interested in it, and came to believe the law was about fairness and ensuring people were treated equally,” Page said of the case. “The law was also about solving problems and helping people.”
He became the first African American to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court when we was elected to an open seat on the court in 1992. Before joining the court, he was an Assistant Attorney General for Minnesota. He was also an associate at the law firm Lindquist & Vennum.
Page declined to single out the most memorable cases he’s worked on over the years.
“I don’t try to quantify or qualify the cases that I work on,” he said. “They are all important. They all involve real people with real problems, and to the extent I would be inclined to try to quantify or qualify their importance, that would be doing a disservice to all of them.”
Page said the most satisfying aspect of serving as a state Supreme Court justice is working with a group of people to “sort out difficult and complex problems” and articulating the law in written opinions.
“That is something I have thoroughly enjoyed,” he said.
He’s eager to help young people find their voice as well by becoming better readers and writers.
“There are any number of studies that suggest by the time a child reaches the third or fourth grade, the die is pretty much cast. I would like to be part of those early years trying to be part of setting the direction,” he said.
Page said it’s crucial for young people to learn how to read and write well so they can develop strong critical thinking skills.
“If you never learn to think critically then you sort of lurch from one problem to the next without the ability to understand what theoretically can be done to solve the problem,” he said.
As for advice for young people interested in becoming a lawyer or a judge someday, he said a strong work ethic and good communications skills are essential.
“Talk with other people — challenge your own thinking,” he said. “Not only challenge other people’s thinking, but challenge your own thinking. Be involved in the community around you.”
Students who are selected as Page Scholars by the foundation are required to complete a service project focused on helping children reach their educational goals as well.
“Alan and I are extremely proud and humbled by our All-Star Scholars,” said Diane Sims Page before the foundation’s recent annual gala at Target Field. “We ask them to mentor other youth in exchange for educational grants and they continue to go above and beyond to serve their community. As Alan moves on to the next stage, it is great knowing that his legacy is carried on by more than 4,000 scholars who have logged 400,000 hours of community service.”
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a DFLer who lives on Nicollet Island, is a long-time friend of the Pages. They are walking and running buddies who frequently make the rounds at the Chain of Lakes. She’s also a big fan of the maple syrup the Pages have grown fond of making.
Kahn said she has great admiration for their work with the foundation and its emphasis on community service. She’s helping review applications for the next round of Page Scholars and finds it a difficult process to winnow down the candidate pool since they are so many bright students to choose from.
“It’s just absolutely incredible about what these kids think they can do and what they intend to do,” she said.
To learn more about the Page Education Foundation, go to www.page-ed.org.