30th Annual Great American Think-Off
Philosophy Essay/Debate Contest
Live Debate June 10, 2023

New York Mills, MN—May 1, 2023—The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center announces four finalists from the essay contest portion of the 30th Annual Great American Think-Off. These four finalists will participate in a live debate in New York Mills, MN on Saturday, June 10, 2023.

The four finalists are (in alphabetical order): Gretchen Mayer of Mansfield, SD; Douglas McClain of Fergus Falls, MN; Allen Taylor of Colorado Springs, CO; and Timur Usenov of Maple Grove, MN. These four essayists each win $500 and a weekend trip to New York Mills in June to participate in the live philosophical debate.

During the debate, the finalists will defend their essays, arguing their side of the 2022 Think-Off question:

“Which is more important to protect: the environment or the economy?” 

The 2023 finalists bring a variety of learned and lived experiences to the stage in New York Mills to aid in the defense of their positions. The inclusion of personal experience has always been a requirement of the essay and debate contest.

The finalists are (in alphabetical order):


Gretchen Mayer graduated with a master’s degree in Sociology and, after a long stint in social work and as Executive Director of the Diversity Committee, found her true calling as a journalist. Now retired, Mayer divides her time watching the moody ocean of the Gulf of Mexico and the windswept prairie of South Dakota. While her husband and four children bring her great joy, it is almost as nice to find a big, fat, earthworm in her planting boxes.

Gretchen Mayer of Mansfield, SD argues that the environment is more important to protect.



Doug McClain is from Fergus Falls, MN, where he works as a wildlife biologist. He is a graduate of Muskingum University and Southern Illinois University. While not native to Minnesota, he has taken a liking to all things winter, including ice fishing and curling. In addition, he enjoys hunting as well as hiking and camping with his family.

Doug McClain of Fergus Falls, MN argues that the environment is more important to protect.



Allen Taylor, a professional photographer and long-haul truck driver from Colorado Springs, is a self-described “information sponge”, and spends much of his 14-hour workday considering national and local hot-topic issues. Allen is a Minnesotan recently transplanted to Colorado Springs, Colorado where he lives with his fiancé/wife Trish (status depends on when this is read) and his dog Milo. Allen developed his early argument skills at the dinner table, to the annoyance of the rest of his family. He had success in high school and college Debate but learned that the best way to truly understand a topic was to have the knowledge to effectively argue ALL sides of an issue. This skill was immensely helpful in his several careers where collaboration and analysis were required. He tends to pre-script his conversations and never understands why his wife never gets her lines right. Milo, however, always agrees with him.

Allen Taylor of Colorado Springs, CO argues that the economy is more important to protect.



Timur Usenov is a high school senior from Maple Grove, MN, and a soon-to-be college student at the University of Minnesota. He has been participating in speech and debate for 4 years because of his love of public speaking and his strong passion for writing. Timur has always enjoyed political and philosophical questions, and he aspires to become an author/lawyer. Timur’s biggest dream is to eventually become president of the United States (even though he was born in Kyrgyzstan, he believes he will somehow make it happen!).

Timur Usenov of Maple Grove, MN argues that the economy is more important to protect.


The debate among the four armchair philosophers is on Saturday, June 10, 2023, at 7 p.m. The finalists will be available to meet the public at the Great American Think-Off Kick-Off event the evening of Friday, June 9 at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center during a Philosophers & Artists Reception from 6-8 p.m. This reception is free to attend and open to all. To celebrate the Think-Off’s 30th anniversary, weather permitting, an outdoor live music event is being planned to follow the reception.

In addition to honoring the Think-Off finalists, the Philosophers & Artists Reception on Friday, June 9 from 6-8 p.m. will also feature regional visual artists whose work will be on display in the Gallery’s Annual Adult Regional Show. The reception is preceded by a Historical Walking Tour of downtown New York Mills, hosted by the Otter Tail County Historical Society, beginning at 5:15 p.m.

The public is invited to attend the live debate in New York Mills, MN on Saturday, June 10 @ 7pm, to witness these four armchair philosophers engage in lively civil discourse. All audience members are invited to cast their vote for who they think makes the best argument. The winner will earn the title of America’s Greatest Thinker for 2023.

Tickets to attend the live debate are $12 in advance or $15 at the door; students are just $5. The debate is held in the NYM Public School Auditorium. A reception honoring the finalists is held at the Cultural Center immediately following the debate and is open to all.

Want to know more? Several “Pop-Up Think-Offs” are being planned in the New York Mills area in the coming weeks to give local residents a chance to share their thoughts, engage in conversation, and win some prizes leading up to the live debate on June 10th. Dates and locations to be announced…coming soon to a brewery, coffee shop, or other local hang-out near you!

For more information or to buy tickets please call the Cultural Center at (218) 385-3339 or get tickets online at thinkoff2023.bpt.me/.


About the Great American Think-Off: 

Now in its 30th year, The Great American Think-Off is an exhibition of civil disagreement between powerful ideas being explored by everyday people. Designed to bring philosophy down from the ivory towers of academia and make it accessible for all, the contest has received national acclaim including coverage by C-SPAN, the New York Times, and The Today Show.

The Cultural Center, located in the rural farm and manufacturing town of New York Mills, Minnesota, sponsors this annual philosophy contest and encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to participate. The Cultural Center is a rural hub for creativity, community vitality, and lifelong learning in the arts. Since our incorporation in 1990, we have been passionate about connecting people to artists and rich cultural experiences in rural Minnesota, celebrating the local and being a window to the world.

To get a better sense of the Think-Off, find details, historical information, and a list of the past 29 years of questions and winners on the event website:

Think-Off News Think-Off History Think-Off Media Buy tickets to the 2023 Think-Off debate on June 10, 2023 >

Questions? Call the Cultural Center at (218) 385-3339.