Dave Guenther was preparing to leave school Wednesday for some late-afternoon fishing with his wife on one of his favorite crappie lakes. It was nearly 3:30 p.m. — when he had planned to be en route to the lake. But that could wait. There’s always time to chat when it comes to Guenther’s true winter passion.
That would be snowmobiling — and snowmobile safety. He broke away from talking about the crappie bite Wednesday as one student, snowmobile helmet in tow, also prepared to leave school for the day.
“He rides in (on his snowmobile) every day,” Guenther said of eighth-grader Evan Hayes.
For 15 years, Guenther, a visual arts instructor at Pequot Lakes High School, has taught snowmobile safety. And a snowy winter to remember for snowmobilers was capped with a major award for Guenther and accolades for his student.
Last month, Guenther was given the DNR’s 2010 Volunteer Snowmobile Safety Instructor of the Year award. Hayes, of Breezy Point, received the Youth Snowmobiler of the Year award from the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association. Guenther also said that Brothers Motorsports of Baxter received an MnUSA dealers award.
“By day he’s a much-loved art teacher who allows students to use their creativity painting snowmobile helmets and hoods, as well as making posters for snowmobile safety and other sled events outside the classroom,” Lt. Leland Owens, DNR enforcement recreational vehicle coordinator, said of Guenther. “He even encourages students who are old enough to ride their snowmobiles to school, allowing them to store their gear in his classroom.” And, in the school parking lot, a “Pequot Lakes High School Snowmobile Parking Only” sign greets visitors.
Guenther, of Pequot Lakes, received the award from Gov. Mark Dayton and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr at the MnUSA Rendezvous in Alexandria last month.
“Yeah, it was,” Guenther, 53, said when asked if the honor came as a surprise. “When they called and told me about it I was like, ‘Where did this all come about?’ I was nominated by members of the Ideal and Pequot snowmobile clubs. It’s pretty humbling. In Minnesota, there’s a lot of volunteer instructors. It’s nice to be appreciated.
“But it’s not just me. Eight to 10 people help me out (with the classes). I share the award with them, too. One person doesn’t do it alone. I head it up, but there are six or seven instructors. We’ve all put a lot of time and effort into it, from grooming to maintenance of the trails and maps. All the snowmobilers in this area and the state put in countless hours volunteer-wise. There are a lot of people out here who deserved the award, too. It takes all of us to keep this thing growing.”
Snowmobiles and snowmobiling have long been a passion for Guenther. He got started in the mid-1970s while growing up in Waubun, a small town of about 400 in Mahnomen County. Now, in addition to owning a pair of 2004 Arctic Cats, he has a collection that includes about 30 antique snowmobiles (1968 and older).
“You meet such good people,” he said of the snowmobile community. “Hard-working people who go out and enjoy the sport. They work all week then get on their sleds and go on the weekend.
“The other part is the volunteerism, the maintenance on the trails, the clubs,” he added of the snowmobile fraternity. “The biggest thing I push education-wise is that these trails just didn’t appear. It’s getting them (snowmobile safety education students) to know and realize how the whole system works. People think the DNR takes care of everything. But it’s the clubs and volunteers. The kids need to know these things. And I think the businesses realize that if the local snowmobile clubs aren’t out there grooming the trails, the snowmobilers won’t come.”
Guenther also served as president of the Antique Snowmobile Club of America for nine years and is the editor of the club’s magazine and is on the board of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. He’s also involved with countless volunteer efforts in the Pequot area and, in 2009, was the Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point Citizen of the Year. Most of those activities — with snowmobile safety instruction at or near the top of the list — remain a joy for Guenther.
“No one is knocking on my door to take it over,” Guenther said with a laugh when asked how long he plans to continue on the safety instruction side. “I’ll keep on doing it as long as I’m doing it right.”