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Arlin was born and raised on an Iowa farm near Sioux Center where he graduated from high school. Arlin was formally educated at Macalester College and The University of Minnesota and worked as an admissions officer at Macalester before entering the Navy in 1966. Arlin was a Naval aviator, corporate executive, cattle rancher and is now retired and lives in Leawood, Kansas with his wife Kristen Kvam.