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United Way names heroes; celebrates 25th birthday

United Way of Becker County Director LuAnn Porter, left, congratulates Roosevelt Elementary teacher Becky Williams on receiving the Everyday Adult Hero Award Thursday at the United Way Heroes celebration.1 / 5
Jerry Schutz talks about community service after receiving the 2009 Bob and Michelle Harris Award.2 / 5
State Bank & Trust President Tracy Peterson received the Business Community Spirit Award on behalf of the bank.3 / 5
Attendees at the United Way Celebration of Heroes Thursday night listened to Detroit Lakes Police Sgt. Tim Eggebraaten sing his aptly named "United Way 25th Anniversary ... Song" that he wrote for the occasion.4 / 5
Heather Neumeister, left, and Ally Nielson, right received the United Way Everyday Youth Hero Award for their fund-raising efforts for Detroit Lakes High School counselor Janelle Girodat's battle with breast cancer.5 / 5

The room was filled with inspiration and community appreciation Thursday night as the United Way celebrated 25 years in Detroit Lakes, honoring do-gooders in the past year, as well as those since the inception of the organization.

The ceremony, which is typically held over a lunch hour with sandwiches, was taken up a notch this year, with hor d'ouevres and music at the Speak Easy and nearly 200 attendees to watch the big winners take the stage.

This year, the United Way met their goal of raising $220,000, a feat considering 55 percent of United Way chapters in the nation did not meet their goals this year, 2008 United Way President Sue Braun said.

In the last 25 years, the organization has raised $3.25 million.

"If you think about this little area, that's a lot of money," Braun said.

The Bob and Michelle Harris Award, presented this year by the couples' daughter Heather Bridgeman and her husband, was given to Jerry Schutz, a past president of the United Way in Detroit Lakes.

Schutz has been involved with, and taken on leadership roles in various programs in the United Way and other community organizations for many years.

Upon receiving his award, Schutz said, "None of this stuff can happen if people don't open themselves up. I just hope that a little bit of what was said is true."

The Everyday Hero awards highlight an adult and a youth as people to be looked up to, who inspire, and "quietly go about making a difference in the lives of others."

The youth recipients were Detroit Lakes High School students Ally Nielsen and Heather Neumeister, after they sold nearly 1,200 pink t-shirts last fall to help raise money for counselor Janell Girodat, who was in the midst of a battle with breast cancer.

Later, Nielsen said the girls had no idea they were receiving the award and were tricked by friends and family into attending the event.

"They told me I was coming for her, and they told her she was coming for student council," Nielsen said. "We knew as soon as they said 'Team Janell.'"

The adult Everyday Hero award winner, Becky Williams, has been a Reading Recovery and Title One teacher at Roosevelt Elementary for more than 10 years, and is known by her colleagues as being extremely committed to her "kids," often taking extra time out of her day to help them learn.

Williams, who runs marathons in her spare time, said, "This is better than Boston!" upon receiving her award, also quipping that she knew something was up because "my husband was here and he never comes to big events."

The Community Spirit awards are given to one company, for supporting employee community involvement, and one individual, who makes a difference through community service.

State Bank and Trust received the company award. Many of it's employees have served on the United Way board, and with their Pay It Forward program, have donated a substantial amount of money to the United Way

Kari Williams, an employee of State Bank and Trust, won the individual Community Spirit Award.

She sits on many area boards and committees, went to Jamaica for 10 days recently to help underprivileged children, and was a chaperone on the Detroit Lakes High School choir trip, among other community achievements.

United Way Director LuAnn Porter and Braun also gave out awards to area companies for their Payroll Drive contributions, which is how the United Way receives 57 percent of its funds.

Herzog Roofing was new to the bronze award level, with 70 to 80 percent participation, and Marco was new on the gold level, with 90 to 100 percent participation.

Porter and Braun also repeatedly thanked Rural Minnesota CEP for their contributions to the United Way, namely in the way of the office building that the United Way has been using for years.

Also honored were Christy Brinkman and Nancy Soberg, retiring board members, Denise Eggebraaten, the 2009 president, Brenda Houts, the president-elect, and Cara Frank, Tim Gordon and Kari Williams, all incoming 2009-2012 directors.