EAST GULL LAKE -- After his divorce, Russ Schultz joined singles groups in the Twin Cities area to make sure he always had something to do when he wasn't working at his job with the DNR.
When he was transferred back to the Brainerd DNR office five years ago, Schultz found there was a major void in the Brainerd lakes area for singles. There was a support group for the newly divorced, but nothing for adults who wanted to get out and meet others.
"Brainerd is like a married town," explained Schultz. "Small towns are a little more vulnerable for singles. If you're divorced, you're really alone."
So Schultz founded Lakes Area Singles, a group that provides social activities for singles in the Brainerd area. The club hosts a dance at the Eagles Club every Friday night and a plethora of other activities, from house parties and vacation trips to volunteering to building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Members can pick and choose activities that they would enjoy, including movie nights, book clubs, dinners out at area restaurants, cross-country skiing outings or even dance lessons.
Cost for an annual membership is $24 a year. The group boasts a membership of more than 100 people. The average age of members is about 50, said Schultz.
"People younger usually have more social connections to where their roots are, like their school chums," he said. "People who move into town don't have those social links."
Carole Paulson, a Baxter certified public accountant, had been divorced about five years when Schultz asked her if she'd like to help him and a half-dozen other people start the planning process for the Lakes Area Singles group. She told him she would. Also attending those first meetings was Jim Erickson, a retired teacher from Anoka who had moved permanently to East Gull Lake about 10 years ago.
"Carole didn't pay any attention to me. She thought I was arrogant," said Erickson, grinning at his wife of three years, Carole Paulson.
When Erickson first moved to East Gull Lake, he participated in the We Care support group for newly divorced people, but felt he was beyond needing a support group. He wanted to meet people. When he would ask others what he could do for fun in Brainerd, they told him to just go to the bars. A friend invited him to join Schultz' Lakes Area Singles group.
There he met Paulson. They discovered that they shared a lot of the same interests, the love of the lakes and were both spiritual and family-oriented. After a few group gatherings, Erickson asked her out while they were standing in the parking lot at Kelly's after a Lakes Area Singles event. She said yes. They continued to date and participate together in the Lakes Area Singles. They married on Aug. 1, 1998, becoming the first couple from the group to marry. Since then, three other weddings have sprung out of the group.
"It was a non-threatening way to meet people before asking them out," said Erickson. "The emphasis was on activities, not on meeting people."
Paulson stressed that although she considers that she and her husband are a successful and happy couple as a result of Lakes Area Singles, it doesn't mean group members aren't successful if they don't make a love connection within the group. The mission of the group is to meet people and have fun.
Still, they're both grateful that Schultz started the group. Otherwise they might never have met.
"I feel a debt of gratitude to Russ," said Erickson, holding his wife's hand.
"We don't promote coupling up, but that's what happens," said Schultz.
Schultz recently moved to Rochester where he accepted a position as a regional hydrologist for the DNR. Lakes Area Singles will continue on, but Schultz said it was difficult to leave the friends he's made here within the group he started.
"I know it'll survive," said Schultz, of Lakes Area Singles. "I don't know if there's anything down here in Rochester. I may have to start one down here, too."
To find out more about Lakes Area Singles, attend one of the group's business meetings held from 5-6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the Paul Bunyan Grill in Baxter. You can also check out its Web site on www.lakesarea.net.
Another new singles group for those ages 30-55 is Solo Inc., a Christian-based singles group. The group gathers for dinner at 5:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at the Last Turn. For more information on Solo Inc., call Pastor Jennifer Wilson at Lord of Life Lutheran Church at 828-9374.
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