Valley City Times-Record
VC native attributes major success to inspiring teachers, supportive community
Heather Kukla will soon be taking over as the new CEO and president of Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (MAPC), a milestone achievement for a local Valley
City girl who was inspired to work hard and seek new horizons by the teachers and community who shaped her.
“If I think back on Valley City and my roots there … I think it’s the relationships, it’s the community that’s around and that continues to be around me and … my family,” Kukla said. “I never felt alone in Valley City, because it was a community where folks come together to watch us play basketball, to celebrate birthdays and you have to support each other … I think it’s also the value of hard work that a lot of my teachers and my family instilled in us. Setting goals and working to achieve them, those are some of the things I learned in Valley City and continue to take away from the folks there.”
Born Heather Johnson, Kukla graduated from Valley
Cty High School in 1992, where she described herself as an all-around student.
“I kind of did a little bit of everything. My parents always encouraged us to try lots of things,” Kukla said. “I played basketball, I ran on the track team, I was on the speech team, the science olympiad, lots of different things.”
In her time at VCHS she was inspired by the tutelage of two teachers in particular, both of whom encouraged her to go above and beyond and never settle for anything less than her best.
“Marla Langemo was my eighth and ninth grade teacher, she was super influential to me,” Kukla said. “She encouraged my love of reading and writing, she liked to travel and I loved when she’d tell us stories about her travel. She’d always tell me ‘you’ll travel, you’ll see the world one day.’ She encouraged me to not be satisfied but to keep working. If there was something I’d written, she’d give me a grade on it but then she’d say ‘but here’s a few things if you want to make it even better.’”
Many important life lessons were also impressed upon her by her business teacher and track coach, Bill
“He was a huge influence,” Kukla said. “He was another one who encouraged me to set goals and work just a little bit harder every day. It wasn’t enough to be the first one across the finish line but to do your best … it was just a lot of fun, part of being in track is that I learned how to work on teams and a lot of that was part of the atmosphere he created for us.”
After graduating, Kukla embarked on a journey of her own, first getting a degree in account at the University of North Dakota before proceeding on to get a law degree. Both accounting and law would gradually reveal to her the road towards work in the philanthropy sector.
“I went to law school in Georgetown in DC and I still didn’t really know much about philanthropy at that point, but I learned about working pro bono, so kind of volunteering your legal services to help people who needed it but maybe
couldn’t afford a lawyer … Using the skills I had … to make life a little better for someone.”
While working as an accountant, she began to get a sense of the impact the non-profit sector could have.
“When I was working in Minneapolis as an accountant, I worked primarily with nonprofits and I learned a little bit about … that there was a sector and industry where people bring their skills and really work on making life better for other folks,” Kukla said. “That was kind of what was speaking to me about my career.”
When an opportunity came for her husband to move them from the East Coast back to the Midwest, she looked for what was available for her in Minnesota, and that’s when destiny called.
“I reached out to some friends in Minneapolis and one of them had gone to work for the foundation and … she was the CFO, she said ‘come in and talk to us’,” Kukla said. “I went to work for them as their first lawyer and that’s how I ended
up where I am.”
MAPC was founded by Margaret Cargill, managing the assets of her estate to carry on her vision of supporting capable nonprofit organizations. Kukla will be taking on the mantle of President
and CEO as Paul Busch, the current head, retires.
“We’ve got some great work to build on,” She said. “It’s a lot about building on the progress we’ve made and the good things our board and
former leader has set for us. It’s keeping it steady, continuing to do the work Margaret left for us to do and a lot of what I’m thinking about for the next chapter … is equity, how can we do our work in a way that’s
inclusive and equitable and recognizes the unique circumstances and gifts everyone has.”
Kukla said she’ll be assuming the CEO/ President role this April.