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'Love or fear: Which motivates us more?'; Finalists to battle it out in 22nd annual Great American Think-Off

It’s a timeless question, as pertinent today as ever – “Love or fear: Which motivates us more?”

Four of the nation’s best ‘armchair philosophers’ will do their best to answer that question in this year’s Great American Think-Off, a debate in front of a live audience in New York Mills.

Now in its 22nd year, the nationally-known Think-Off has a long history of bringing thoughtful individuals together from all over the country to debate two possible sides of a juicy issue.

People interested in participating in the debate submit essays outlining their stance on the issue, and from those, a selection group picks four finalists – two to debate each side.

This year, by pure chance, all four finalists hail from Minnesota – and one of them happens to be last year’s Think-Off champion, Paul Terry, who will return to defend and carry on his title.

Finalists are chosen anonymously from a pool of submitted essays. Their identities are not revealed until after their essays have been chosen.

This year’s final four will debate the question “Love or fear: Which motivates us more?” at the New York Mills School auditorium on Saturday, June 14 at 7 p.m. Audience members will have the chance to actively participate, voting for the debater they find most convincing.

The finalists are:

Jason Steck, who will be arguing that fear motivates us more.

Steck is an attorney, currently serving as a judicial law clerk for Judge John P. Smith and previously serving as a judicial law clerk to Judge Kevin G. Ross at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Before attending law school, Steck was a resident instructor of political science and international relations at Creighton University in Omaha.

He also served 15 years in the United States Air Force, with assignments in Tokyo, Japan, Denver and Omaha.

Also arguing in favor of fear will be 2013’s Think-Off champion, Paul Terry.

Terry is the chief science officer of St. Paul-based StayWell Health Management, where he leads client support, program evaluation, research and industry leadership and ensures high-quality program development and delivery. He is one of the original StayWell team members, having worked there since the 1980s, when the company was a subsidiary of the Control Data Corporation.

Terry is a Senior Fulbright Scholar and recently received his second scholarship to study AIDS prevention in Tanzania. He conducted his first scholarship in Zimbabwe, where he co-founded Shape Zimbabwe, an organization committed to HIV prevention in Africa.

Focused on love as the most important motivator will be Therese Helker.

Helker lives in Pine City and is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She has served three congregations and currently works as a full-time hospice chaplain for Allina Health.

Helker lives in a small house on the Snake River with her husband, Bill, and two dogs. She enjoys reading and can be found most evenings and weekends sitting with a cup of tea, facing the river, reading a good book. She also spends time crocheting, writing and collecting pottery.

Also arguing for love will be Jennifer Nelson.

Nelson is a native of Morris who currently resides in the Twin Cities. She received her Masters of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in May of 2014.

Nelson’s work has largely focused on social policy and community engagement. During the course of her studies, she worked with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State.

In 2012, Nelson received the Islamic Resource Group of Minnesota’s Building Bridges Interfaith Award. The award recognized her work in organizing an interfaith dialogue event in response to rising community tensions over the denial of a permit for an Islamic Center.

To reserve tickets to this year’s Think-Off, call 218-385-3339, or visit