Friends & Neighbors - A Lion amongst men
A resident of Lake Park since 1970, John Pietila is now the only charter member of the Lake Park Lions Club who has remained active in it to the present day.
It was that dedication, in part, that led to him being chosen as Lion of the Year for 2006-07 by the Lake Park club.
"It was a complete surprise," he said. In fact, even his wife Anita didn't know about it, despite the fact that she served on the selection committee for the award.
"They didn't tell me what was going on," Anita said.
A native of Wolf Lake, Pietila and his wife, Anita, came to Lake Park after being hired as teachers in the local school district -- he in math, she in art. After obtaining his degree in mathematics (with a minor in physics) from Bemidji State University in 1968, Pietila taught in Deer Creek for two years before coming to Lake Park.
Now both retired -- he in 2002, she in 2004 -- John and Anita spend their time these days traveling or enjoying their respective hobbies. Anita does machine quilting, and John does "a little bit of woodworking."
"I've also restored a few cars," John said. "Neither one of us has done any substitute teaching -- when we retired, we were done. We've got so many other things to do now..."
"Our project this summer is to restore our 1976 motor home so we can take some short trips with it," Anita added.
The couple also traveled overseas last January, visiting Germany and Finland. Their trip included a one-day stop at the home of a former Finnish exchange student that they had hosted for six weeks one summer, through the Lions Club's student exchange program.
"We met her family, saw her home -- it was great to see her," Anita said. "It was very interesting. She and her husband both spoke English. They took us around Helsinki and showed us the sights. It was a wonderful day."
The Pietilas' twin daughters, Karen and Kathryn, once visited Australia through the same exchange program. Now married, Karen is a major in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany. Kathryn, also married, is an Air Force technical sergeant stationed in Washington, D.C.
Son John Robert, also known as "J," is a chiropractic neurologist who lives with his wife and family in Richfield, Minn, while daughter Kimberley lives in the Detroit Lakes area. The Pietilas have five grandchildren.
Through the years, they have also been involved in various other Lions Club projects and activities, such as an annual French toast brunch and Norwegian spaghetti feed.
In addition, the club also provides scholarship funding for local high school students to further their education upon graduation, and contributes funds to Lions International programs that offer diabetes education and vision research.
Once a month, John also collects aluminum cans for the club, from a wire cage set up for that purpose. The money raised from these various fund raisers goes toward not only the above-mentioned projects, but also helps pay for an eye exam and new eyeglasses for underage kids whose family would otherwise be unable to provide.
"Our motto is, 'We serve,'" Pietila added. "We do what we can in the community.
Pietila noted that while his award came as a surprise, it isn't awarded on a whim.
"To be a Lion of the Year, you have to be interested in making a contribution to the community, and to the larger community of the world around us," he said, adding that the Lions are one of the biggest service organizations in the world.
John received his plaque at the Feb. 26 monthly meeting of the Lake Park Lions Club. He was presented with the award by Lions District Governor Caroll Kukowski.