A real Buddy: Bruegger’s Bagels owner finds time to help men start a new lifeYou’d think Buddy Longen had enough to do running his two Bruegger’s Bagels bakeries in Hudson and Eagan, Minn. But each Tuesday evening he meets with a handful of men recovering from addictions to share a meal, study the Bible and be their friend.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
You’d think Buddy Longen had enough to do running his two Bruegger’s Bagels bakeries in Hudson and Eagan, Minn.
But each Tuesday evening he meets with a handful of men recovering from addictions to share a meal, study the Bible and be their friend.
“We feed them and try to love ’em,” says the 46-year-old with happy eyes and a cheerful disposition.
“People can change. I believe that wholeheartedly,” Longen adds.
He witnessed the change in his own father, also known as Buddy Longen, after the elder Longen became a Christian.
His dad went from being the guy who didn’t show up for supper and yelled at him when he came home to being a good role model and strong believer over the last 25 years of his life.
“It’s all been (because of) the Lord,” Longen says.
His real name is Walter Charles Longen III.
He discovered that at the beginning of second grade. On the first day of school, the teacher said she was going to call the roll and asked students to raise a hand when they heard their name.
“Walter Longen,” she said as she proceeded through the list.
“I go, wow! There’s another Longen,” and looked around to see who it was, he relates. “The teacher came up and says, aren’t you Walter? And I go, no, I’m Buddy.”
“So I go home and tell my parents, you know what I learned today? My real name is Walter.”
That was his grandfather’s name, too. His father was Walter Charles Longen Jr. His 19-year-old son is Walter Charles Longen IV.
(Longen also has two daughters – Tonya, 25, and Amber, 22 – and two grandsons.)
He explains with a chuckle how the Walters and Buds were differentiated. His grandpa was Bud, his dad was Buddy, and he was Little Buddy.
When Walter the Fourth came along, Walter Jr. pronounced him “Bud Lite.” He goes by Charles these days.
Longen’s father was general manager of LaBon’s Truck Stop at Exit 4 on Interstate 94 (now the Travel America Center) for 20-some years. The Longen family moved from Maplewood, Minn., to River Falls when Walter Jr. took over the truck stop in 1976. Longen was just entering high school at the time. He graduated from River Falls High in 1981.
He worked with his father at the truck stop on and off for 14 years, beginning when he was in high school.
His father died on April 10, 2004, at the age of 60.
“He was quite a character,” Longen says. “A lot of people around the community know my father from the truck stop.”
Longen’s mother JoAnn, sisters Tami Datwyler and Kimberly Parnell, and brother Troy have all settled in Hudson. He resides in Roberts.
In addition to the early death of his father, Longen has had some knocks in life that make him sympathetic to others who find themselves in trouble.
He and his ex-wife divorced 10 years ago, requiring him to balance running a business (then Pete’s Pizza in New Richmond) with spending time with his children.
“We all need support. We all need someone to believe in us,” Longen says.
He says that if he hadn’t been reared in a loving, Christian home, he might have lost his way in life, too.
His mom has been his spiritual leader, he says. “She’s a solid Christian. My mom is a rock.”
Longen was raised Lutheran, but now attends Faith Community Church, a Baptist church.
Three years ago, Andrea Oreso, founder of Uwezo Freedom Ministry, came to his Hudson bagel shop and asked him if he would help mentor men recovering from addictions – some of whom had spent time in jail.
Longen remembers telling Oreso that he hadn’t even smoked a cigarette in his life, so he didn’t know how he could help recovering addicts.
She replied, “You have Jesus in your heart, don’t you?”
He said he did.
“Well, that’s all you (need),” she said.
Oreso (formerly Andrea Norvold) is a 1991 graduate of Hudson High School. She and a group of Kenyans formed Uwezo – which means ability in Swahili – when she doing mission work in Kenya in the late 1990s.
She married a Kenyan, the Rev. Jacob Oreso, and they brought the ministry to Hudson when they settled here in 2002.
The ministry in St. Croix County began with two volunteers going to the county jail twice a month.
“Now we have over 20 volunteers from local churches and over 14 ministries,” Oreso says. “We ministered to over 200 people last year.”
Some of the Uwezo volunteers conduct a jail ministry. Others are involved in an aftercare ministry that helps recovering addicts develop a three-month plan for sober living, and connects them with a local church and community resources.
Longen is involved in the recovery and family support ministries.
He meets with a small group of men recovering from addiction to alcohol or drugs at 6 p.m. every Tuesday at Christ Center Assembly of God Church off County UU in the town of Hudson.
Other volunteers provide programming for spouses and children that sometimes accompany the men.
Oreso emphasizes that the meetings aren’t only for people recently released from jail, but are for anyone – both men and women – recovering from any type of addiction.
“When you do this ministry, it is really about developing relationships,” Oreso says. “So many of the guys that we minister to are just thirsty for men who are mature in Christ and who can be positive role models. It can be really hard to get men volunteers, so we’re really grateful to Buddy for giving his time. He’s touched so many lives.”
“You know guys. We don’t talk much,” says Longen. So he opens up to the men about his own struggles, and they feel safe to talk about theirs.
The Rev. Gregg Heinsch, a former pastor at Faith Community Church, used to describe Christians as “hurting people helping hurting people,” Longen says.
“It is absolutely a blessing,” he says of his work with the recovery ministry. “I get more out of it than I put into it, by far. Hands down.”
Oreso is seeking more volunteers to assist with Uwezo’s recovery ministries. She’d also be happy to give a short presentation to church and other groups about Uwezo’s ministries.
She can be reached by phone at (715) 760-1882 and by e-mail at Uwezo413@hotmail.com.