Sitting on the porch of his Northfield home on a warm late spring afternoon, Dave Wolf contemplated his afternoon bike ride, a 20-mile journey that allows him to do something he loves.
Wolf has developed that passion into a way of paying it forward, raising thousands of dollars over the last four years for Rice County Habitat for Humanity while riding in the Habitat 500 Bike Ride, a 500-mile trek that raises an average of approximately $300,000 for the 28 Habitat for Humanity chapters in Minnesota.
He will ride his bicycle in the 500-mile ride July 14-19 in northern Minnesota. Wolf begins the ride in Hermantown, heading to Hibbing and Aurora before returning to Hermantown. For Wolf, biking was something he has done since his college years. A recreational biker at the University of Minnesota, he didn't purchase his first road bike until 2004.
Wolf’s Habitat for Humanity involvement was a sort of pre-retirement planning five years ago. He didn’t retire from paid work until the end of 2016.
“It was an intentional effort to get involved,” he said. “I’ve learned all kinds of construction trades, which I didn’t have before. Yesterday I was installing flooring.”
Wolf and the approximately 140 other riders are responsible for raising at least $500 for Habitat for Humanity through the linked fundraising campaign from March to December. Last year, Wolf helped raise more than five times the minimum requirement — more than $2,700.
He has consistently outpaced minimum expectations, raising approximately $1,200 his first year, doubling that to around $2,500-$2,600 the next year.
As of early June, Wolf had raised $2,100 of his $2,500 goal this year.
“I’ve been blessed that I’ve established a good group of donors that are willing to support this effort,” he said.
The bike ride allows participants, some of whom have participated for 20 years, to develop a sense of camaraderie, an aspect Wolf says is his favorite part of the journey. The group does not stay in hotels during the trek, which can include 83 miles in one day. Instead, they stay in high school gyms and are provided meals by local service committees.
Wolf plans to ride again next year.
“I probably won’t be riding as fast as I was last year, but I can still do the distance,” he said.
“It’s an adventure, a highlight. It’s a challenge.”
As a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Wolf has helped build 10 homes and is a member of the Go Team, a group of 12 to 15 key volunteers who meet Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to help build homes in Rice County.
Pay it forward approach spans decades
Wolf’s life of service has been etched since his time at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was enrolled in the school’s ROTC program. Wolf followed his education with a four-year stint in the Air Force, including three years flying mid-air refueling KC-135 airplanes while based in Dayton, Ohio.
“That was different,” he said. “That was a good experience.”
Following his military stint, Wolf returned to Minnesota, initially working for Eden Prairie-based Rosemount Inc. as a marketing engineer, followed by another six-year stint at Sheldahl as an applications engineer and product engineer. After a 14-year tenure in the printed circuit board industry, Wolf was employed with a small business before retiring.
Wolf, the first person in his family to attend college and who now lives on Northfield’s east side, is empathetic to families who do not have a stable home and are forced to move frequently.
“You can imagine that if children are disrupted every four to six months into a new living environment, it takes a toll on their stability in school and how they perform,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to pay it forward,” he said of his Habitat for Humanity service. “It’s a big part of what volunteers do. Obviously, I live in a nice home and had a successful career, and yet I came from a family of eight kids, so I have a sense of how it is to have less of an opportunity.”
Wolf’s pay it forward approach spans far beyond his volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. He has been involved with numerous committees through his membership with Northfield United Methodist Church since 1981, having served on the Trustees Committee, Stewardship and Finance Committee and Capital Campaigns Committee. He also donates platelets, a blood component that only has a shelf life of five days. The blood is normally used by cancer patients who would not survive if they did not receive the donation. At last count, Wolf had donated 315 units.
Wolf has been a Rotary Club of Northfield member since 2003, serving as board treasurer from 2012-18.
"I've also served on committees for two of the major annual fundraisers — the Jesse James Bike Tour and the Turkey Trot 5K run," he said. "The proceeds from these fundraisers are used to support both international and local service projects."
In explaining part of his motivation for volunteering, he quoted a guiding quote from John Wesley's rule for Christian living:" "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever … you can!"
Wolf’s belief in an essential teaching of Christianity is a motivator for his extensive volunteerism.
“Many Christians believe that part of being a Christian is serving others, and that is certainly a motivating factor,” he said. “Those that are blessed should certainly share their blessings.”
Thanks in part to Wolf’s work, Rice County Habitat for Humanity has helped construct approximately 50 homes since 1993.
Wolf helped reconfigure a Northfield hotel into affordable housing in 2000, an effort begun by local churches.
To Rice County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Dayna Norvold, Dave Wolf “is a committed Habitat volunteer and a committed biker.”
“So the Habitat 500 is a natural fit for him,” she said. “We’re so grateful that Dave is willing to commit a week of his life to this event. He will for sure be successful. He’s a great rider, and the ride is well-supported by Habitat for Minnesota.”
Biking 500 miles in one week is a significant challenge, and to Norvold, Wolf fits the bill of someone who would undertake the task.
“He loves biking, and I think he sees it as a personal challenge to accomplish,” Norvold said. “The people who go on the Habitat 500 are a group of folks who love Habitat for Humanity and who love biking.”
Other ways to raise money for Habitat for Humanity include coming to a building site and doing handiwork, which could include swinging a hammer, installing siding or laying flooring, or bringing meals to volunteers.
Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota Development and Communications Director Kristin Skaar has met Wolf on four rides and attended a family owner picnic in Rice County he hosted.
“Dave is just a really thoughtful guy and really excited to be supporting Habitat for Humanity,” Skaar said.
Skaar is familiar with Wolf’s effort for the organization. Skaar and Wolf help an organization whose main goal is to build homeowner strength, stability and self-reliance. Homeowners are required to contribute 350 hours of time helping Habitat for Humanity employees construct their homes, and once they are in them, their mortgage payments are limited to a maximum of 30 percent of their income, which must range between $25,000 and $64,000.
Skaar helps support Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the state, helping them build more homes, gain funding and coordinate events.
The bike ride is not the only way Habitat for Humanity volunteers raise money. Breakfast and silent auction fundraisers take place, and at least one rider is involved with Habitat for Humanity efforts in the Philippines. Some of the local fundraisers for other causes also include the Tour De Save ride meant to raise suicide awareness, a ride dedicated to fight multiple sclerosis and other fundraisers.