Jeanne Larson thought she was going to an early morning Sunrise Sertoma meeting to talk about a fundraiser.
What happened after she got there came as a shock.
“It really did blow me away,” Larson said. “I was so shocked it almost took my breath away. It was very exciting and very humbling.”
Larson, a retired teacher, was presented with the Sunrise Sertoma Club Service to Mankind Award. The award is presented to an outstanding community member who is not part of Sertoma, which takes its name from service to mankind.
The club picked the Brainerd resident because of her leadership efforts and countless volunteer hours in the community. Larson was always active in the lives of children, her own and the ones she taught everyday at school. The 1966 Washington High School graduate was a full-time teacher, initially of first-grade students, then preschool and then — for more than a quarter century — for kindergartners.
Larson became Sunrise Sertoma’s first local award winner to go on to gain awards at the district and regional level. The district includes Alexandria, Bemidji, Camp Sertoma, Fergus Falls and St. Cloud. The region includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Sunrise Sertoma began in April of 1990.
The Sunrise Sertoma club presented Larson with the award based on her leadership with the Fourth of July Feet for Fools 5K walk/run in Brainerd, the Sour Grapes Half & Half Trail Run, Mud Run for Charity. The Feet for Fools run began in 1992, growing from a run with friends into an annual community event. Larson was director of the Sour Grapes half marathon at the Northland Arboretum for eight years. The run, now a fundraiser for the Arb, began as a joke for those runners who didn’t get into Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth. The Mud Run at Pillager, which began in 2010, is a fundraiser for Lakes Area Disabilities Ministries, aimed at helping with activities for people with cognitive disabilities.
“The individuals involved as members of Lakes Area Disabilities Ministries have an opportunity to have fun and grow spiritually because of funds raised by the Mud Run,” stated Peggy Langer, Sunrise Sertoma president and long-time friend. “Jeanne has a soft spot in her heart for any of God’s gifts whether humans, animal or flora. ... She has been successful in all of her projects, but that is because of her friendship and devotion to others, as well as wanting to do service for others.”
Larson served on the Arb board for six years and continues to be a weekly volunteer. She is a long-time Kinship Partner and offers her own northeast Brainerd gardens for fundraisers for garden clubs, community clubs and as a Christmas house for the Zonta club. She also volunteers at the Brainerd area senior center.
Larson said the things she’s been involved with are things everybody else does as well. But Langer said there is more to it, noting Larson’s sense of fun, family and friendship combined with her community focus and ended up bringing more people to help others with their service.
Larson’s community activism isn’t limited to efforts others can readily see. When Larson was walking her dog by the Mississippi River in Brainerd and noticed the large amount of trash discarded there, she kept saying to herself “someone should clean this up.” After a few times, she realized she was going to be that someone.
In the award presentation, Langer said Larson was never one to let grass grow under her feet, as she was active as a teacher, in church, raising kids and staying fit. She played tennis competitively, played broomball and started running — initially as a way to keep her son company as he prepared for a race. She went along and said the only one behind her at the end was a dog.
“It must have been a very old dog,” Larson said and laughed.
She ran a race in Wadena in bell-bottom jeans and won an award for her age group. Larson said she was the only one in that category. Then Larson had the bug. She ran Grandma’s Marathon a couple of times and completed 22 marathons in 11 different states.
At 64, Larson said she no longer runs marathons, but she does match her age in activities each year. For the last birthday, that meant 10 miles on inline skates, 51 miles of biking and walking three miles. Larson said her husband, Bob, is the only one who did all the miles with her.
“Bob is wonderful,” she said.
Sunrise Sertoma has 21 members and reports it is always looking for new members. The group meets at 6:45 a.m. Thursdays at Northwind Grille in downtown Brainerd. The group is active with the Warrior Lift-a-Thon raising scholarship funds and works with numerous charities in the area from efforts to help the hearing impaired to helping with the environment through ditch pick-ups.
Sunrise Sertoma noted Larson is faithful to all of her volunteer projects and has a difficult time saying no. Larson also has volunteers who are willing to answer her call.
“Jeanne is a steadfast community leader who brings out the best in others in terms of effort and giving,” the Sunrise Sertoma club reported. “Her many successes are due in large part to the friendships she has nurtured and her devotion and commitment to serving others. Jeanne Larson fully embodies Service to Mankind.”