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Arctic explorer Bancroft delivers keynote address

Polar explorer Ann Bancroft spoke Friday while projecting images and video from several of her arctic trips. She thrives on the challenge of surviving in a landscape that doesn't allow visitors to become complacent. Steve Dzubay photo.

Global explorer and St. Croix Valley resident Ann Bancroft delivered the keynote address at Friday's opening session of a three-day Rotary District 5960 conference that drew 500 Rotarians to the UW-River Falls University Center.

Bancroft, a former St. Paul school teacher who lives on a farm near Scandia, Minn. and fly-fishes the Kinnickinnic River, told the group her uncle was a District Governor with Rotary International.

"It's the dreams that matter," she said, tying her message about breaking down barriers into the Rotary theme. Bancroft and partner Liv Arnesen continue to train for another Antarctic expedition in 2011.

Bancroft shattered the notion that women were too weak to endure polar exploration.

She and Arnesen were the first women to sail and ski 1,700 miles across Antarctica in February 2001. In 1993, she led a four-woman team to the South Pole covering 660 miles in 67 days on skis. In 1992, Bancroft led another all-woman expedition crossing Greenland.

In 1986 she used dogsleds to travel 1,000 miles from the Northwest Territories in Canada to the North Pole as the only female of the seven-man Steger International Polar Expedition. During that trip she earned the distinction of becoming the first female to cross the North Pole.

Bancroft, 53, a native of Mendota Heights, Minn., leads a non-profit foundation that supports girls and women to realize their highest dreams and potential. The Foundation recognizes individual achievement and promotes initiatives that inspire courage, risk-taking, integrity and individuality in girls and women.

Her exploits have been closely followed and reported by the BBC, CNN, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News and NBC's Today Show. Feature stories about her life and achievements in Time, People, USA Today, Ms., McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, and more magazines.

The conference gathered members from 60 Rotary clubs in the district that stretches from Mankato, Minn., through the east Metro and up to Hayward. The River Falls Rotary Club hosted the conference with help from other area clubs.

The decision to host the conference here was driven by current District Governor Roy Sjoberg of Hudson, and because of the UW-RF's ongoing promotion of sustainability

Other main speakers included Tom Henderson, a member of the Helston-Lizard Rotary Club, UK; Dr. Kelly Cain of UW-River Falls; and Deepa Willingham, of the Santa Ynez (Calif.) Rotary Club.

Henderson, a former Royal Navy diver, started the Shelterbox program, which works through 33,000 Rotary clubs worldwide to provide immediate help to disaster victims worldwide. Henderson assembled a $1,000 box containing a tent, sleeping bags, a cook stove, basic tools, clean water and food for 10 people. Tens of thousands of the kits have been distributed to more than 30 countries since 2000.

Willingham, a native of Calcutta, India, was once a student of Mother Teresa and continues her quest to end poverty worldwide.

Cain, Director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development at UW-RF and a professor of sustainability, spoke on the topic: "Sustainable Community Development: Leadership or the Risk of Irrelevance."

Learning sessions during the conference focused on helping Rotarians learn more about pushing sustainability at home and abroad, build membership, become more effective leaders and assist with Rotary initiatives like PolioPlus, youth development, exchange programs and international humanitarian efforts.