Ernie Gunderson, a 2011 graduate of the University of St. Thomas/St. Catherine University School of Social Work, recently published Hartland to Capitol Hill: The Journey of a Wounded Healer,based on an unpublished memoir written by his mother, Mary Gunderson, before she died in 2000.
The daughter of Danish immigrants, Mary tells the heartrending tale of settling in rural Minnesota just before the Great Depression. Hartland is the small town where Mary’s early memories began. She describes her checkered career as a country school teacher in the 1940s. She goes on to marry a farmer and raises 11 children, two of whom succumb to mental illness and suicide.
Mary’s recovery from this family tragedy began when she founded a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in her home town, becoming a personal and political advocate for others suffering from mental illness. Her NAMI work led to Washington, D.C., where she was invited to lobby for mental health parity and tell her story to congressional delegates on Capitol Hill in 1990.
In addition to her duties as a farm wife and a mother, Mary was a prolific writer. She recorded her entire life in diaries, letters, journals, and the unpublished memoir. After two life-changing trips to Denmark, Mary wrote and self-published The History of a Danish Family, the history of her family dating to 1800.
Ernie, the third of Mary’s 11 children, quit his 24-year engineering career the same year Mary passed away. In 2005 he entered the Graduate School of Social work at UST/SCU to get his M.S.W. and begin a new career. In the process of researching and writing papers, he discovered his love for writing and became fascinated with the large collection of Mary’s written work. A 2007 tour of his mother’s childhood home inspired Ernie to resurrect and publish Mary’s story. In 2008 Ernie requested and was granted a one year leave from the MSW program to research and complete the story which his mother began.