The Cultural Center in New York Mills announces four finalists from the essay contest portion of the Great American Think-Off. These four essayists each win $500 and a trip to New York Mills, in June for the live 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, Minn.; David Lapakko of Richfield, Minn.; Louise Mengelkoch of Lake Oswego, Ore.; and Jennifer Nelson of Fridley, Minn. 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. He is the author of Argumentation: Critical Thinking in Action (Kendall Hunt), now in its fourth 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.

Louise Mengelkoch is retired and lives in the Portland, Oregon, area with her husband, Kent, and Lucie, her aging Labrador. She is originally from Minneapolis and taught journalism for almost 25 years at Bemidji State University. 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. She is the mother of two sons and two daughters, and she is writing a memoir about her experiences as the grandmother of three lively grandchildren.

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.

Tickets to see these four armchair philosophers debate in June are just $12 in advance, or $15 at the door; students just $5. Anyone who joins the audience gets to vote in the contest to decide who is America's Greatest Thinker for 2019. All are invited to the Cultural Center following the debate for a reception to honor the four finalists and continue the conversation.

For more information or tickets please call the Cultural Center at (218) 385-3339, visit the Center's website at or buy tickets online at