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“The mission is solid, important, and I’ve got a great team."

Breaking the Ice: ‘Apolitical’ Shellito heads veterans department

Name: Larry Shellito

Title: Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs

Education: A master’s and two undergraduate degrees, Minnesota State University Moorhead; educational doctorate, University of Minnesota; graduate of U.S. Army War College

Commissioner Larry Shellito says seeking to lead the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs was one his best decisions.

“The mission is solid, important, and I’ve got a great team,” the retired major general said of the department, which assists the state’s 352,000 veterans and their families. He also represents the department before the Legislature and Congress.

Shellito was appointed commissioner in January 2011 by Gov. Mark Dayton, a few months after he had retired at the end of his seven-year term as the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, a post to which then Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him.

“A lot of people think: What are you, a Democrat or a Republican?” Shellito said. “My response is I am a veteran and we are universal.”

Shellito previously was president of Alexandria Technical and Community College, where he worked for three decades. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and later joined the Minnesota Army National Guard, serving for 37 years. His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Get to the point. What do you want? Ask a question. I’m not a chit-chatter. But I’m approachable.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. I can’t remember. I’m pretty much apolitical. I’m very issue-focused and not personality-focused. I’ve worked on both ends of the spectrum and I value and honor and appreciate both sides. It confuses a lot of people in this environment because they want to label you.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. [My reading] is more work-related. I just got a book about the Medal of Honor winners because we just had the Medal of Honor convention here and we’re working on a memorial here at the building.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Any time I see people putting down or demeaning someone else — that turns me off real fast.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I enjoy working in the garage, as strange as it seems. Things that give me some immediate gratification, something I can do and fix up, straighten the garage.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. If we were visiting in Alexandria, just drive around the lakes, look at the lakes. Show them the campus, tour, those types of things. With the grandkids here now, the Science Museum is great. They just love it.

Q. Has an event or person been an inspiration to you?

A. On the military side, Jack Vessey [Gen. John “Jack” Vessey, President Ronald Reagan’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]. He would stop in and visit, give advice. A very humble man but very insightful.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. [On Jan. 11] we had a reception for people on the veterans committees. The Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force does a meet-and-greet every two years and invites legislators. More than 35 stopped by and talked with veterans service organizations’ leadership. The key point there is, we are apolitical. Everyone agreed it’s not a Republican issue, not a Democratic issue, it’s a veteran issue. They accept that.

Q. Where do you like to eat lunch?

A. My desk. I like to sit and work and get stuff done. My wife has it all laid out, gets me on a proper diet. Since I left the adjutant general position I dropped about 20 pounds. I didn’t go on any diet but a lot of times you go to Washington, D.C., and you go to receptions and those people keep putting hors d’oeuvres in your face, then they want to take you out to dinner.

Q. If you’re not at your desk, where are you likely to be?

A. Walking about, all around the building. Just to say hi, to say thank you. Or the veterans home also.

Q. Is there someone at the Capitol who you think does a lot of work without getting a lot of credit?

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. We’re probably one of the best-kept secrets — the staff that I have on programs and services as well as the homes. The homes are obviously the big one, but programs and services — millions and millions of dollars are coming back to the state to take care of veterans.

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