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Celebrating our heroes: United Way event is April 24 in Detroit Lakes

Last year’s United Way Celebration of Heroes included the presentation of a special Everyday Hero Award to the Patriot Assistance Dog Program. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

It was back in the fall of 2001, when America was still reeling from the aftershocks of Sept. 11 that then-Becker County United Way President Mike Herzog and Executive Director LuAnn Porter came up with the idea of holding an event to honor the community’s “unsung heroes.”

“We decided we should be recognizing those everyday heroes living amongst us, on a regular basis — not just after a catastrophe,” Porter said. “Because they surround us daily, many of them working silently, behind the scenes, just doing whatever they feel is needed… without looking for recognition.” 

From that discussion sprung the United Way Celebration of Heroes, a Becker County tradition that is now entering its 13th year.

The 2014 United Way Celebration of Heroes is set for Thursday, April 24, in the Holiday Inn, Detroit Lakes, starting at 5 p.m.

As in years past, the centerpiece of the celebration will be an awards ceremony where the community’s various “heroes” are recognized.

First up will be the “Everyday Hero” award — one for an adult, and one for a youth recipient.

“You know them. They are your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers,” reads the description of the award that is printed on the nomination form. “They sit in our classrooms. They deliver your mail. People who carry on with their daily lives and at the same time they are touching someone else’s. The person who faces adversity and is inspired to help others. The person who devotes himself or herself to make life better for someone else. They are the Everyday Heroes who make Becker County a better place to live.”

The celebration also features the presentation of the Community Spirit awards — one for a business or organization, one for an individual.

“As the name implies, this award is for something the individual or group has done for the betterment of the people of Becker County,” said Porter.

But the biggest fanfare of the night is given to the final award presented: The Bob and Michelle Harris Award.

“Mike (Herzog) also instituted the Bob Harris Award — now the Bob and Michelle Harris Award — which is the highest award we give,” said Porter. “It goes to those people who follow in the footsteps of the late Bob and Michelle Harris, who were always very community minded, going that extra mile for people without looking for any recognition.”

The award is one that has special significance for Porter.

“Bob Harris was one of my mentors,” she said. “He really took me under his wing, back when we were on the Chamber (of Commerce) board. I remember so many nuggets of wisdom he gave to me — little tidbits about the businesses and people in the community, and about involvement.”

In addition to these awards, the celebration also includes food — heavy appetizers and dessert — along with a video presentation about the United Way (there is also a cash bar).

“It’s just a fun night — a very uplifting night — seeing all these people recognized for their work,” Porter said.

“These are people that aren’t on the front pages of the newspaper, they’re just there, quietly doing what they do.”

She said the planning for each year’s celebration is done by a seven-member committee.

“It really is a group effort,” she added.

“That’s what makes events like these work.”

Tickets for the Celebration of Heroes are $25. To reserve your seat, please call the United Way at 218-847-7400 by April 21.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454