Love has led YMCA of the North to establish its first ever institute dedicated to youth leadership.

That’s right, love — specifically, Kathryn Mitchell Ramstad’s love for her late husband Jim Ramstad, who passed away in November 2020. 

Jim Ramstad was the rare politician respected — yes, even beloved — by folks in both political parties. Having served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991-2009 representing Minnesota’s 3rd District, Jim established a reputation of pragmatic, common-sense bridge-building. Of compromise. And trust.

And people loved him for it.

“In this political environment, so many people tell me they yearn for politicians and leaders like Jim,” Kathryn said. “He cared deeply about helping people and often to get legislation passed, that meant reaching across the aisle.”

When Kathryn decided in 2022 to do something special to honor Jim, she had already made significant contributions to YMCA of the North as a leading donor and 25-year member of its Board of Directors. Creating the Jim Ramstad Institute for Civility and Youth Leadership seemed to her the perfect way to memorialize Jim and all he represented. 

After Jim’s death, tributes poured in from friends and political leaders across the country. They all shared a theme, recognizing Jim’s practice of reaching across party lines, his genial approach, and noting his close friendships with the likes of Democrat Sen. Paul Wellstone and Rep. Patrick Kennedy to Republicans like Rep. Erik Paulsen and many others. 

“From the state house to the United States Congress, Jim Ramstad moved legislative mountains by championing civility, conversation, and the pursuit of common ground,” said Democrat U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips. “His remarkable legacy is a testament to what’s possible when we employ invitation over confrontation and debate over division.” 

The Ramstad Institute will exist to perpetuate the ideals Jim embraced in his political leadership: an openness to bipartisan collaboration, a commitment to seek common ground, and a willingness to accept pragmatic, commonsense solutions. To that end, the Institute will develop and deploy a leadership framework for youth leaders in Youth in Government (YIG) and promulgate the Y’s evidence-based Respectful Conversations curriculum in school districts throughout Minnesota.

“Kathryn’s investment will be transformative – training young people to work together, trust each other, listen to each other and build a vision of their collective impact,” said Amy Anderson, Executive Director of the YMCA Center for Youth Voice. “These skills and strategies will serve them well in their YIG program areas as well as in their adult life.” 

Kathryn established the Institute with a $250,000 lead gift, a further $100,000 from her father, Paul Christen, and the designation of a $1 million planned gift. Kathryn and Y leaders hope to raise additional funds to seed the endowment underpinning the Institute soon. 

“Kathryn is a true friend and partner,” said YMCA President Glen Gunderson. “Her partnership with the Y and support for the mission have been invaluable. And with this Institute, Kathryn’s found a way not only to honor Jim’s legacy but to also leave our world a better place. We couldn’t be more grateful.”