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Anna G. Larson, Published April 13 2013

Women of Influence: Commissioner Melissa Sobolik brings new perspective

eek one: What is influence?

“Women of influence” is an ongoing series exploring the women in our community who have the most impact and influence. Each profile will explore a different element of influence and redefine what it means.

FARGO - People often stop Melissa Sobolik in the grocery store to ask, “Are you that Melissa?”

After having a cardboard cutout of herself on campaign signs and winning a Fargo City Commission seat, life is a little different today for Melissa, 33, and her husband, Jeremy Sobolik.

“When we go out now, people may want to stop and talk about an issue or chat to see how things are going,” Melissa says. “Before, nobody knew who we were.”

She first ran for city commission in 2010 and lost. Although the loss was difficult, she decided to run again in 2012 at the urging of Jeremy and a few close friends.

Mayor Dennis Walaker endorsed her during the second campaign, although the two had never met.

“I didn’t know that it was coming,” Melissa says. “It was huge boost, absolutely, and I’m very, very honored.”

Walaker says he endorsed Melissa because the commission needed a voice to replace Linda Boyd (formerly Coates), who served until 2008.

“She’s all I expected,” Walaker says of Melissa. “She brings a different perspective from the youth. I think that’s extremely important.”

Melissa says she hasn’t faced difficulties being the only female commissioner – age is her biggest challenge.

“I come from a different generation with different values, but I think we’re starting to have some conversations and look at things differently,” she says.

Melissa lists Boyd, Shannon Charpentier, president of Charpentier Creative, and Arlette Preston, owner of Home Instead Senior Care, as women who have influenced her political career.

Mentoring, whether in a professional setting or casually, is valuable to women especially, she says.

“Give a woman a shot, and see what you can learn from her and teach her,” Melissa says. “Until we get equal representation, we’re never going to have an equal playing field.”

Charpentier has supported Melissa since her first run for city commission. She says the 33-year-old Concordia graduate has a completely different mindset as a young person.

“I know from being in the workforce for 38 years that decisions are better when you have diversity in your team,” Charpentier says.

She was also impressed with Melissa’s dedication, approachability and spunk.

“I knew if she was willing to work hard and to do this, she would be a real critical asset to a team of veterans,” she says.

Melissa grew up on a farm near Courtenay, N.D., where her family raised sheep. She says it taught her the value of hard work.

“A lot of people are very surprised to learn that I’m a farm girl because I’ve grown very accustomed to city life,” she says. “I love the opportunity I have now to remember my roots, but still be able to explore the more urban things and really be a cross between the two.”

Her high school class of eight had students from two towns, and everyone was expected to “do everything,” like play basketball so they’d have a team. She experienced strong community involvement throughout her life.

“It’s just something that’s in me,” Melissa says. “I think a lot of people are very interested in giving back or being involved.”

Community involvement is what brought Melissa and Jeremy back to Fargo after they’d moved to California.

In 2003, Jeremy got a job with U.S. Customs in Long Beach, Calif. He told Melissa, who was then just a close friend, that he’d be moving in six weeks. Melissa says she suddenly knew she couldn’t live without him.

“He was like, ‘Well, should we just get married?’ I said sure, let’s give it a try,” Melissa says.

Wearing her grandma’s wedding dress, Melissa married Jeremy in the lobby of the Fargo Jet Center less than six weeks later.

“It wasn’t hard because at the end of the day, we just wanted to be married,” she says. “It wasn’t about the big celebration.”

Ten days after their wedding, the couple moved to California. They loved the weather, but the high cost of living and lack of community feel left them missing Fargo.

After nine months, Melissa and Jeremy moved back to Fargo. They were warmly welcomed by friends and family, and their previous employer, the Fargo Jet Center, created new jobs for them.

However, the duo also felt rejection from primarily older people who were questioning them for moving back, Melissa says.

“There was this sense of ‘Oh, you couldn’t cut it out there so you decided to come back home,’ ” she says, adding that failure didn’t bring them home, a conscious choice did.

The attitudes toward Melissa and Jeremy’s move home sparked her interest in politics.

“When you make that choice, you should feel comfortable and feel confident that people are going to support you in that choice,” she says. “That really spurred me to say OK, I think I need to run for office.”

In addition to her commission duties, Melissa works 40 hours a week as the director of agency and client services at the Great Plains Food Bank. Juggling the two jobs plus her personal life is difficult, she says.

The commission takes up 10 to 15 hours during a typical week, and up to 30 hours during flood season.

“Finding a way to do all – that is hard,” Melissa says. “I think we, as women, want to keep giving and giving and sometimes, we just can’t. We have to take time for ourselves.”

She says she hasn’t figured out fully how to deal with the stress of two jobs, but she’s started prioritizing. For example, she schedules eight hours of sleep into her iPhone.

When Melissa does have a day off, she likes to relax and watch TV shows like “Big Bang Theory,” “The Mentalist” and “Vampire Diaries” with Jeremy and the couple’s 6-year-old golden retriever, Petra. The couple has chosen not to have children, and Melissa calls Petra their “pride and joy.”

Melissa’s also been known to declare “concert time” and performs for Petra and Jeremy with her karaoke machine.

Her favorite song to sing is Trick Pony’s “Pour Me,” even though she says she isn’t a country fan.

Jeremy laughs thinking about Melissa’s home concerts.

“She’s the same person that I’ve always known, there’s always something to talk about,” he says. “She’s had so much impact and so much to do with our community the last few years. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525.