Final Four Announced
“To Vote or Not to Vote:
Does it Matter?”
Essay Finalists to Debate Topic
June 8, 2019 @ 7pm

The Cultural Center in New York Mills announces four finalists from the essay contest portion of the 27th Annual Great American Think-Off. These four win $500 each and an all-expense paid trip to New York Mills in June for the debate.

During the debate, the finalists argue their side of the question, “To vote or not to vote: does it matter?” Two finalists will assert that YES, voting matters, while the other two finalists will argue that NO, voting does not matter.

The debate among the four armchair philosophers is on Saturday, June 8, 2019. The finalists will be available to meet the public at the Great American Think-Off Kick-Off event the evening of Friday, June 7 at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center during a Meet & Greet Reception. The Reception will also feature visual artists on display in the Gallery’s “Distinctly Minnesota” exhibit, and is preceded by a Historical Walking Tour of downtown New York Mills.

The four finalists are (in alphabetical order): Rick Brundage of St. Paul, MN; David Lapakko of Richfield, MN; Louise Mengelkoch of Lake Oswego, OR; and Jennifer Nelson of Fridley, MN. Mengelkoch and Nelson will argue YES, voting matters while Brundage and Lapakko will argue NO, voting does not matter.


Rick Brundage holds a B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Public Affairs from Brown University. For fifteen years, Rick has mentored students in history, public policy, and rhetoric from Minnesota to Taipei, including twelve years as a Grand Strategy Faculty Member at Yale University’s Ivy Scholars Program, four years as Director of Forensics at Taipei American School, and three years coaching at Apple Valley Senior High School. Currently, Rick is a public speaking consultant and political activist. Rick is also a member of an award winning trivia team, a better than average chef, and a passable kayaker.


David Lapakko is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. There he teaches courses in persuasion, argumentation, research methods, communication theory, intercultural communication, and organizational communication. In the past, he has done adjunct teaching at Hamline University, the University of St. Thomas, St. Olaf College, and the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Argumentation: Critical Thinking in Action (Kendall Hunt), now in its 4th edition. Blessed to have been married to his wife Helen for 36 years, he has two children and two grandchildren, with a third grandchild on the way. He likes to write, edit, take long walks, go on road trips, and listen to music in all its forms–especially through a network of house concerts in the Twin Cities that attracts amazing performers.


Louise Mengelkoch was born and raised in Minneapolis. She retired from Bemidji State University as chairperson of the Mass Communication Department and a professor of journalism. She has published numerous articles in newspapers and magazines, mostly about social issues and politics. She holds master’s degrees in English literature and liberal arts. Louise developed an appreciation for politics when she was invited to work with the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars to introduce college students to national politics. She was able to see how profoundly young people were impacted by learning about government in our nation’s capital and also by attending national political conventions and presidential inaugurations. Louise now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, author Kent Nerburn, and her aging Labrador, Lucie. She has four children and three lively grandchildren. She facilitates a memoir class in her community and is currently working on her own memoir about the challenges and rewards of being a grandmother.


Jennifer Nelson is a native of Morris, MN who currently lives in the Twin Cities where she works as a research consultant for the DFL Caucus at the Minnesota House of Representatives. There she provides elected officials with additional research and analysis on proposed state legislation related to transportation, housing, and capital investment. She earned her Masters of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 2014. Jennifer previously won the title of “America’s Greatest Thinker” in 2014 when she successfully argued, based on her experience recovering from a severe car accident, that love motivates us more than fear. When she’s not putting in long hours during the legislative session, she enjoys exploring Minnesota’s natural spaces and historic sites, writing, making art, and spending time with her crew of one-eyed rescue pups. She has yet to meet a dog, a museum, a good book, a thought-provoking conversation, or a cup of tea that she doesn’t like.


The great debate happens on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. in the New York Mills School Auditorium. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door; students $5. All attendees get to cast their vote for which finalist makes the best argument, and ultimately name “America’s Greatest Thinker” for 2019.

For more information, please call the Cultural Center at (218) 385-3339.

To buy tickets, click here: Buy Tickets