Dr. Robert Biesterfeld has never been to Boys Town, but he sure feels like he has.
Following the inspiration of his beloved stepfather, Harland Arthur Mayer, Biesterfeld has donated to Father Flanagan's home for children for as long as he can remember. Now, he has established a legacy gift that will benefit the boys and girls in Boys Town's care for years to come.
Biesterfeld was born in 1948, the same year Father Flanagan died. He never really knew his biological father, who was an alcoholic. Fortunately, Mayer, the man Biesterfield considers his dad, eventually married Biesterfield's mom and came into his life as a parent and a mentor. And while his early years were not always easy, Biesterfeld credits the person he calls “Dad" for the work ethic and values he has lived by throughout his life.
“I grew up poor as dirt," Biesterfeld said. “I think that's why when my dad told me stories about the kids at Boys Town, I had so much empathy for them. I knew what they were feeling – what they were going through."
Biesterfeld grew up in Hancock, Minnesota, a small town of around 1,100. His dad ran a business called the Fix-All Shop. It was an appropriate name because, according to Biesterfeld, his dad could fix just about anything. His dad also sold ice skates out of the store. It was through those skate sales that Biesterfeld first learned about Boys Town.
“Dad sold skates and he took old skates in through trades," Biesterfeld said. “At the end of every winter, he would take some of his new skates and some of the better-condition used skates and package them up and send them to Boys Town. As long as I can remember, he was always giving to Boys Town."
Biesterfeld said his dad, who also grew up the son of single mother, was a Catholic (as is Biesterfeld), and knew about Father Flanagan and his mission to help kids. He believes that played a big role in his dad's decision to support Boys Town.
“We didn't have much, but dad believed in giving to those in need." Biesterfeld said.
Biesterfeld said his dad always worked hard even though he didn't make much. That rubbed off on Biesterfeld.
“Since I was very young, I worked," he said. “I shoveled snow. I mowed yards. Fortunately for me, I picked up a work ethic and a study ethic. I saw how hard my dad worked. I looked up to him. He was a tremendous influence on my life. He was my moral compass. He also taught me to control my temper."
Still, there were times when Biesterfeld struggled growing up. He felt he was always fighting an uphill battle.
“I was a welfare brat," he said. “White trash to some. It was a miserable time growing up being poor."
It was during those younger years that Biesterfeld's dad taught him the greatest lesson of all.
“He taught me faith," Biesterfeld said. “By the grace of God, I had a dad that showed me the way. He said to me, 'If you believe in God, what do you have to lose? But if you don't believe in God, you could lose everything!' My faith has gotten me through some tough times."
Biesterfeld said along with working and studying hard, he developed a love for athletics. When he wasn't doing an odd job somewhere, he was playing sports. His dad also taught him to hunt and fish, not for recreation, but to put food on the table. Biesterfeld still loves the great outdoors.
“I love to bow hunt deer," Biesterfeld said. “Actually, anything outdoors, hunting or fishing, those were things that I developed a passion for. They were things my dad and I could do together."
Biesterfeld said he was fortunate to be a good student and a quick learner, with an ability to study hard. After graduating high school, he earned his undergraduate degree and then attended the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. He chose to become an endodontist, specializing in root canals and root canal surgery, and later completed his residency at the University of Nebraska. But he never had a chance to visit Boys Town.
Biesterfeld moved back to Minnesota to begin his professional career and started what would eventually become the largest endodontics practice in the state. He married and started a family, and today has three adult children – Robert, Jr., Bart and Katy.
It was as he established his practice that he decided to continue another tradition he learned from his dad – donating to Boys Town.
“I started donating in my 30s," Biesterfeld said. “I was blessed by God to have a wonderful family with three healthy children. But I never forgot what I had learned from my dad about Boys Town. So, I made sure every year I made a donation."
Now in his 70s, Biesterfeld is retired and lives on a beautiful acreage near Lake Minnetonka, west of the Twin Cities. He said his goal these days is to help kids who are struggling so they don't ever have to feel the way he did growing up.
“By the grace of God, I had a dad that showed me the way," Biesterfeld said. “I have been so blessed in my later years that through hard work, smart investing and being fortunate, I made more money than I could have ever dreamed. Now, I feel even more blessed to be able to help less fortunate kids, ones that are a lot like me when I was growing up."
Biesterfeld said that while he supports a number of local youth organizations, a special place in Nebraska has always held a special place in his heart. He said he is proud to have recently established the Dr. Robert C. Biesterfeld and Harland A. Mayer Endowment at Boys Town.
“When I think about Boys Town, I think, 'I've been there,'" said Biesterfeld. “Even though I've never been on the campus, I know how the kids are thinking, and I want them to have hope. If I can do it, they can do it. I want them to have self-worth and self-confidence. It just takes hard work."