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'America's Greatest Thinker' title awarded to North Carolina man

Photo provided David Eckel of Clayton, N.C. wins the 'America's Greatest Thinker' title in the New York Mills Think Off contest.1 / 2
Photo provided Participants in this year's "Great American Think-Off" were, from left, Barbara Betcher, Rayelle Hite, moderator George Biltz, winner David Eckel and Leif Wallin.2 / 2

The final four contestants debated on Saturday, June 12 in New York Mills, Minnesota to determine the title of 2010's "America's Greatest Thinker" by addressing the question "Do the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor?"

The winner, chosen by live audience at the debate and awarded the gold medal, is David Eckel of Clayton, N.C.

Eckel argued that there is not an obligation but rather a personal responsibility to help. However, it is crucial to reserve the element of choice to each of us as citizens in a democracy.

Second place, with a silver medal, is Leif Wallin of Minneapolis, who argued that obligation to help the poor is inherent in our acknowledged responsibility for other people.

Sharing third place with bronze medals are Rayelle Hite of Battle Lake, Minn., and Barbara Betcher of Red Wing, Minn.

Eckel is a writer and philosopher moonlighting as a computer and small business management consultant. He holds a degree in management science from MIT. Upon graduation he launched an optical arts company. Dave subsequently worked in the plastics and telecommunications fields before founding Telephony Software Associates in 1991. A resident of Clayton, N.C., where he maintains many of the PCs in his neighborhood and teaches junior golf, Dave currently assists an oilfield services company and an antiques center, both located in Houston.

Wallin graduated from Concordia College with degrees in economics and French. He works as a contracts negotiator.

Hite spent a short time in the Army National Guard, and in 2002 became a mother and homemaker. Betcher is a retired schoolteacher.

Each of the finalists received $500 awards in addition to travel and lodging expenses to New York Mills as participants in the Great American Think-Off. The 2011 Think-Off will start when the question is published on January 1, 2011. For more information and the complete text of this year's winning essays, check out