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Tracy Frank, Published January 05 2013

Inspiring others to live with purpose

FERTILE, Minn. - Reneé Rongen is an inspiration.

Not only in the inspirational and humorous speeches she gives around the country as a motivational speaker, but also in the things she does.

Rongen, who lives on Kittleson Lake in Fertile, left a well-paying strategic planning and marketing job in corporate America to follow her heart in becoming a motivational speaker.

“In our family we have had so much death at early ages and I just had a revelation,” Rongen said. She didn’t love her job and didn’t feel it was filling her purpose and passion, she said.

“I wanted the rest of my life to make a difference and I’ve known since I was 8 years old, my purpose that God gave me is to encourage others to be the very best that they can be.”

So she called her former clients and asked them to hire her for their next speaking events. She told them not to pay her until after she spoke and then to pay her what they thought she was worth.

“I’m a huge risk-taker,” Rongen said. “If you don’t step off that cliff, you’ll never know what you could have been.”

Katie Dilse, a volunteer for Rural Women in America, has hired Rongen to speak at their conference in Bowman, N.D., twice and said she’s a phenomenal speaker.

“The minute she steps on the stage, she just puts a warmth across the audience,” Dilse said. “They feel comfortable with her from the moment she smiles and that twinkle in her eye, the sparkle in her presence. She just portrays the real facets of life. She puts it all on the table.”

Not only did Rongen receive top ratings in the evaluations following the event, but people out on the street would just start talking about her stories, Dilse said.

“She gives a gift that stays in your heart long after her key-not presentation,” Dilse said.

When Rongen recently published “Fundamentally Female,” a collection of stories, quotes, poems, and artwork from women around the world that illustrates what it means to be a woman, she started her own press, Kittleson Creek Press, so no one else would alter her book. She also wanted to be able to allocate where her proceeds go.

Rongen gives 20 percent of the proceeds from her book to domestic violence causes.

She also dedicated 20 percent of all proceeds for two weeks toward the fundraiser of a friend who has breast cancer.

“If I would have sold out to the big boys, I couldn’t have done that,” Rongen said. “I’m all about paying it forward.”

She truly is. Rongen is the spokesperson for the Pay it Forward Foundation.

She and her family also do things like put money in jars and anonymously give them to people who need them.

“It’s sort of like May Day gone wild,” Rongen said. “It’s so stinkin’ fun.”

She also gives pro bono speeches to third and fourth graders at inner-city schools, or pediatric cancer units when she’s speaking in another city.

Rongen wrote “Fundamentally Female” because she wanted to show her daughters, Elizabeth, 17, and Grace, 14, what it means to grow up female, she said.

“The book really releases all of the different facets of being female,” said Rongen, who is married to Tom and also has 20-year-old son named Alexander. “You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll snicker, you’ll go aha.”

Both of her daughters have contributed to the book.

Another impetus for the book is that Rongen’s mother has cancer and Rongen planned to dedicate the book to her mother’s birthday club, which started 45 years ago.

Contributions from some of the members of the club, a group of friends that got together monthly, are included in the book.

“My whole goal was, if something happens to my mom, I wanted her to see this book, and she has and she loves it,” Rongen said.

Dr. Susan Mathison, who founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com, a website and blog about life, inner and outer beauty, and health, is one of the “Fundamentally Female” contributors.

She wrote about a woman she knew who was more than eighty years old, had arthritis that deformed her fingers and hands, but still made beautiful Krumkake cookies.

Mathison first heard Rongen speak at a women’s conference five or six years ago. Rongen interviewed Mathison on a radio program a couple of years after that and they quickly became friends, Mathison said.

“We had such a fun time talking that we went out for dinner and talked for another three hours,” she said. “She approaches the world as if everyone is her friend.”

Mathison said she loves the book.

“It’s got so many great stories, great quotes and it’s also beautifully put together,” she said.

“Fundamentally Female” came out Oct. 3 and sold 15,000 copies in seven weeks. It has also received rave reviews online.

“I can’t believe it. It’s humbling,” Rongen said. “But that’s how life is when you use the gifts that you’ve been given.”

Rongen said her goal is to be able to go to God empty, having used all the gifts he gave her.

“God gave me an incredible amount of gifts,” she said. “I don’t know why he picked me to give me all these, but I’m going to use them for the good and to glorify Him in the end and if I do that, I’m going to have a pretty darn good life.”

Rongen said she leads a pretty simple life in a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a great life and she’s incredibly blessed.

“It’s not about all the things we have, it’s about what we have inside,” she said. “And that’s what women want.”

Rongen has also written “Grandy’s Quilt, A Gift for All Seasons.” It’s an illustrated true story Rongen wrote for her family about her grandmother’s quilt, but so many people encouraged her to publish it and it’s now in its fifth printing.

She has also contributed to “Bedpan Banter,” a book about medical stories of humor and inspiration by Brenda Elsagher. In it, Rongen wrote two touching stories sure to draw tears and laughter about the end of her mother-in-law’s life.

Rongen is working on rolling out a one-woman show called Fundamentally Female this fall. She plans to perform in small theaters across the country.

The show will be targeted toward men and women ages 30 and up.

“I’m 50 years old, so it’s all about living in the middle of life,” she said.

She will talk candidly and make people laugh, but also deliver a message about taking risks and living your purpose, Rongen said.

“I think if you live with purpose and passion, profitability comes,” Rongen said, adding that profitability is however someone defines it. It could be about money and success or raising amazing kids, or living a life rooted in the Lord.

She’s also coming out with a Fundamentally Female jewelry line and wine line, she said.

Rongen said she often hears from people after a speaking event who tell her she touched their lives and it’s so humbling, rewarding, and gratifying to know she’s right where God wants her to be.

“I have a great life. I get to be an author, I get to speak and make people laugh until they pee their pants, and they get to leave with a really powerful message,” Rongen said.

Fundamentally Female is available locally at c. lizzy’s, 410 Broadway in Fargo, and Catalyst Medical Center, 1800 21st Ave. S. in Fargo or online at www.reneerongen.com.

The book sells for $19.95 in the United States and $21.95 in Canada.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526