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'Famous Dave' urges students in Wagner to persist through adversity

Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave's, speaks to a group of students about success Wednesday at the Wagner Community School. (Chris Huber/Republic)1 / 2
Students attending Dave Anderson's speech in Wagner recite a motivational cheer Wednesday at the Wagner Community School. (Chris Huber/Republic)2 / 2

WAGNER -- Problems and adversity never go away, but instead of preventing success, they're actually a large part of becoming successful.

Dave Anderson, owner and founder of Famous Dave's Barbeque restaurants, delivered that message to Wagner, Lake Andes, Mitchell Technical Institute and University of South Dakota students Wednesday at the Wagner Community School.

Anderson, a Chicago native, dealt with attention deficit disorder, low grades and teasing during high school. When he became an adult, he battled business failure, bankruptcy and other issues.

"I've had tough times -- the worst adversities. I know what it means to fail," said the multimil-lionaire.

Anderson is an American Indian, a member of the Choctaw/Chippewa tribes and the Lac Courte Oreilles Lake Superior Band of Ojibwa in Northwest Wisconsin. In 2004-2005, he was head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Wagner, where he spoke Wednesday, has a significant population of In-dians from the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

Anderson said that when he was young, his teachers yelled at him to quit daydreaming and to pay attention.

"I learned to turn my weaknesses into strengths and turn my daydreaming into envisioning," Anderson said. "If you have dreams, anything is possible."

Soon after high school, Anderson failed at this first business and a few years later had to file for bankruptcy. He learned life is about change and lifelong learning.

"Your circumstances will never change out there. All change happens within here," he said, touching his head and chest.

Anderson said when the recent recession hit, Famous Dave's was faced with a potential decline in business. But Anderson was determined that would not happen.

"We were not going to succumb to the belief that the economy is bad. We weren't going to believe that business was so bad that we were going to go out of business."

Anderson encouraged the students to follow their passions, be enthused about the work they do and work to create value in the world.

"When you create value, you create opportunity," he said. "Every day of my life, I lived to give value to other people."

He started his first Famous Dave's restaurant in Hayward, Wis., a town of 1,800 people. Many told him it wouldn't be as successful as he dreamed. Within a short period, the restaurant served 4,000 to 6,000 people per week. Now it is a 200-restaurant chain across the nation.

"No one expected it to grow into a national powerhouse," he said.

Anderson powered his way to become one of the best-known barbeque connoisseurs in the nation. He encouraged every student Wednesday to fight through any adversity or problem they may face to pursue their dreams and make the world a better place.

Anderson said people must make the choice to be optimistic each day.

"Attitude is a conscious choice," he said. "If you give up on the spirit of optimism, then you may never be an influence to someone who needs it."

Anderson said even now that he has realized his dream of success, he still faces adversities -- which are bigger, he said -- and he struggles to remain optimistic each day.

"Believe and be optimistic you can get through tough times," Anderson said. "No matter what you've been through, everyone can achieve their wildest dreams."