Gwen Walz is Minnesota’s 39th First Lady. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she is excited to work on behalf of all Minnesotans. Gwen was born in Glencoe, Minnesota, and grew up in western Minnesota. Alongside her three sisters, Gwen was raised by her parents, Val and Linn, who were educators and small business owners. She has received degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and Minnesota State University in Mankato. Gwen began her English teaching career in western Nebraska where she met Tim Walz. Soon after they met, Gwen and Tim established a summer trip to China for their students and traveled there nearly every summer through 2003. In 1994, Tim and Gwen married and even “honeymooned” on one of these trips, with 60 students in tow.
Educating Minnesota’s children is one of Gwen’s passions. Throughout her career, Gwen has taught in public, alternative, and migrant schools; this has shaped her vision. For more than two decades, Gwen served as an administrator/coordinator in the Mankato Area Public Schools, working to eliminate the achievement gap and strive for more equity and access within systems. Gwen knows that a strong public education system, encompassing birth through senior citizens, is critical to empowering every Minnesotan to succeed.
Gwen is a passionate advocate for exemplary education in American’s prisons as well. She has worked across the country to bring educational opportunities to incarcerated women and men, or as Gwen notes: students. The Bard Prison Initiative in upstate New York is home to the innovative, high standards approach to a liberal arts college degree that Gwen advocates, inclusive of all students. Gwen understands that corrections must be an inclusive component of our education system, and by expanding opportunity, we can dramatically reduce recidivism rates and most importantly, transform lives. Since her initial visit, Gwen has been an active supporter of the Bard Prison Initiative and is engaged in efforts to bring the tenets of this model to Minnesota and nationwide.
As part of the liberal arts in prison curriculum, Gwen and her congressional spouse mentee developed a Conversation aligning Randy Florke's life story with the equality movement. This Conversation has been shared by Randy and Gwen in prison, at University's, West Point Academy, the American Constitution Society, and numerous other public and private institutions in support of equality and diversity education. The Conversation also documents historic moments for our country that were lived through Randy and Gwen's experiences as Congressional Spouses. They continue to travel and share this upon request.
Throughout her life, Gwen works passionately to build a more just and equitable world, from teaching at prisons, to advocating for the LGBTQ movement, and to advocating for criminal justice reform. This desire to learn from and work with others to advance meaningful change is Gwen’s guiding principle. After living in Mankato for decades, Gwen now lives in St. Paul with her husband, Tim, and their two children, Hope and Gus.