EAST GULL LAKE -- True heroes aren't those found on television, playing professional basketball or running for political office, rural Brainerd farmer Ron Nelson said at Monday's Distinguished Service Awards Banquet.
They're the everyday heroes, he explained as he accepted the award for Outstanding Farmer of the Year at Madden's on Gull Lake Monday night.
"You hear talk about sports and political heroes, but my heroes are the ones I rub shoulders with, the ones whom I tuck in at night," said the soft-spoken farmer. "My wife said to tell you why I do what I do and that's the essence of it, and I thank you."
Nelson and his wife Barbara chose to raise their seven children, ages 1-18, on a family farm south of Brainerd. Nelson, who grew up on a family farm, said that was where he developed a honest work ethic from his parents. The Nelson family works together, growing flowers and vegetables as well as running a successful dairy operation. Nelson also volunteers with several community organizations and serves as a youth minister at St. Mathias Catholic Church.
Nelson was one of eight Brainerd lakes area citizens who were honored at the annual awards banquet, sponsored by the Brainerd Jaycees, The Brainerd Dispatch and Brainerd Community Action. Ken Thomas served as master of ceremonies and former Brainerd mayor and teacher Bonnie Cumberland was keynote speaker. Cumberland was 2001 Brainerd Citizen of the Year.
Rachel Cross, a freshman at Mississippi Horizons who has been volunteering since age 6, was selected as Outstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year. She said she's learned many lessons from volunteering. The worst thing a person can say to you is "No," she said.
"My message to adults is to continue to ask youth to volunteer," said Cross. "Remember, we can't learn unless you're willing to teach us. And we can't teach unless you're willing to lead."
Mary Devine, president of the Brainerd Jaycees, said Nathan Tuomi, the Outstanding Young Citizen of the Year, was one of those everyday heroes.
"I can tell you he hates this, being in front of a crowd and accepting this award is killing him," said Devine, of Tuomi, who admitted he had a few sleepless nights in fear of speaking to the large crowd at Monday's banquet.
Devine said Tuomi is typical of those who volunteer -- willing to help out when needed but modest about their service to others. Tuomi was honored for his community service and for his service to his customers at his company, Gull Lake Glass.
Wayne Abell, who was selected as the 2002 Crow Wing County and Minnesota Outstanding Senior Citizen of the Year, thanked his wife Marge for keeping track of their social calendar for their volunteer work. Both Abells are avid volunteers throughout the Brainerd lakes area. He also is a volunteer driver for the Brainerd lakes area senior van and the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program, driving cancer patients to their appointments.
Former Brainerd Police Chief Frank Ball presented Brainerd Police Officer Troy Schreifels with his award for Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
"I don't know who's protecting Brainerd tonight because that whole back part of the room is Brainerd police officers," said Ball. "That's a testament to what type of integrity Troy has."
Schreifels, who said he viewed the police department as his second family, thanked Ball and Capt. Lyman Dahl for recognizing his abilities and encouraging him to volunteer within the community.
Kristy Jedinak, Outstanding Child Care Provider of the Year, said she hadn't taken the time to think about her role in the lives of her day-care children until after she learned she received this award.
"I'm grateful for the families of the children that I have," said Jedinak, her voice wavering. "I have five families here tonight and that's how supportive they are of me."
Dave Cox, Outstanding Firefighter of the Year, said he wanted to share his award with the entire Brainerd Fire Department because they are such a close team.
"We're firefighters because we like what we do. We enjoy it," said Cox. "I'm proud to be a Brainerd firefighter. I appreciate it. I really do."
The Swingin' Sertomans musically introduced Paul Bloom, the Outstanding Citizen of the Year who is also a member of the band, by serenading him with original lyrics written about him.
"Now that you're Citizen of the Year, you'll choose champagne instead of beer. You'll be too good for us, we fear, as Citizen of the Year," they sang.
Brainerd Mayor James Wallin and Baxter City Council member Mark Cross presented Bloom with the award.
Bloom, who is director of Brainerd Community Education, thanked former Brainerd Superintendent Bob Gross for hiring him 27 years ago and thanked current Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth for putting up with him.
Bloom stressed that community members need to encourage children to achieve academically and show them the importance of working hard.
About 300 people attended Monday's banquet.
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