This year marked the 40th annual Outstanding Senior Citizen awards ceremony at the Becker County Fair, and in keeping with that milestone, one of the two winners selected was “Mr. Becker County Fair” himself, Bob Sonnenberg.
Sonnenberg has served as both fair manager and Fair Board president for more than three decades now, and as program emcee Karen Lenius noted, he works on the fair for 20 hours a week — not just during the summer months, but all year long.
Despite his devotion to the fair, however, Sonnenberg humbly noted that his fellow nominee, Ken Holt, “is an awfully good man too.”
“I don’t know if I deserve it,” Sonnenberg added, noting that winning the award was “like a dream,” and hadn’t sunk in for him yet.
“It’s quite an honor to me,” he added.
Sonnenberg said that his devotion to the fair stems from one basic thing: “It’s the kids.”
“The smiles on their faces when they win something, that’s all it takes to make me want to keep doing it,” he added.
The woman chosen to receive the title alongside Sonnenberg was Donna Zimmerman, who also appeared quite overwhelmed by the honor following Thursday’s ceremony.
“I’m totally in awe,” she said, before exclaiming, “I’ve got goosebumps!”
Zimmerman said her dedication to volunteering was something she learned from her mother, who basically taught her to “love your neighbor — all colors, all religions, all ages.”
Zimmerman also noted that it’s a conscious choice, being happy or sad, and while “it’s not always easy,” she tries to stay happy, and to instill that happiness in others.
“I just love working with seniors, I really do,” she added.
Also honored during Thursday’s ceremony was Outstanding Senior nominee Mavis Lage.
As Becker County Board Chairman Don Skarie put it during his opening remarks, “If it weren’t for volunteers, none of us would be sitting here today — there would be no fair, and no 4-H.”
As he read off the names of the 80 people who had preceded Sonnenberg and Zimmerman, Skarie added, “There’s a lot of history here.”
Also speaking at the ceremony were State Rep. Paul Marquart and State Sen. Kent Eken.
“Your generation has set such a great example for our younger generations to follow,” Eken said, adding that he truly believes the only reason this country has thrived is because “we’re standing on your shoulders — all of you represent the best of the best.”
“What you’re doing, whenever you volunteer, is passing on your values, your skills, and your experience from one generation to the next,” said Marquart. “We owe you a great debt of gratitude.”
The Minnesota Outstanding Senior Citizen competition is sponsored each year by the Minnesota Board on Aging, State Fair Board and the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.
Locally, the competition is sponsored by the Becker County Council on Aging and the Becker County Fair Board.
Nominations of county residents, age 70 and older, are solicited from various individuals, community agencies and organizations.
Nominees must all be Becker County residents and must have reached the age of 70 by June 1 of the year in which they are nominated.
From this pool of nominees, one man and one woman are selected each year. The winners are given the opportunity to enjoy a free trip to the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, during Senior Day festivities there.
Sonnenberg and Zimmerman will also be representing the county in the Minnesota Outstanding Senior Citizen competition, which is traditionally held on that day.
This year’s Senior Day at the Minnesota State Fair is set for Thursday, Aug. 29. The recognition ceremony for Minnesota’s Outstanding Senior Citizens will begin at 10:30 a.m. inside the Leinie Lodge Bandshell.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.