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Porter, Sinclair are United Way heroes

The annual Becker County United Way Celebration of Heroes luncheon went off without a hitch this past Wednesday, as dozens of local individuals and businesses were honored for their community spirit and service.

This was despite the fact that several of this year's recipients were completely unaware that they were about to be honored.

But no one was more surprised than United Way Executive Director LuAnn Porter, who was one of two recipients of this year's Bob Harris Memorial Award.

Tears were welling in Porter's eyes as she declared, "I don't stand here alone."

"I've been helped by so many hands," she continued. "I look around this room, and I see not just volunteers -- I consider each and every one of you as friends."

A 25-year resident of the Detroit Lakes community, Porter began volunteering with the United Way in 1983, and became its executive director in 1992. But her community service extends far beyond that.

"She's been the 'go to' person whenever someone in the community needs help," said Michelle Harris, who presented both awards on behalf of her late husband. "If the need didn't fall within the realm of United Way, LuAnn would seek others to help like churches, Mahube, Social Services and, in the case of people who had no money for Christmas, she would take from her own pocket to help others.

"Like Bob Harris, she has been a community booster and leader her entire life."

Porter's activities extend back to her years in Austin, Minn., when she was active on a local and state level, and "held in high regard with the Jaycee Women, which is now known as the Women of Today," Harris continued.

She has served on the Detroit Lakes school board since 1987, in many capacities including board chair, treasurer and clerk. She and her husband Bob have three sons, two daughter-in-laws and five grandchildren.

Porter was joined on the podium by fellow Harris Award recipient Jim Sinclair, who also became emotional as he remembered those who had served as his role models through the years.

"I'm a pretty good imitator," he said, adding that he had "imitated some of the best" when it came to community service, including Bob Harris and his own father, local attorney Jim Sinclair Sr.

His work with the United Way has included serving as president, business drive chair, leadership chair, a leadership circle charter member, payroll speaker and as a drive volunteer. Other community activities have included serving as a Rotarian and a volunteer Detroit Lakes firefighter.

His activities with the Detroit Lakes Fire Department have included serving as a captain, safety officer and director on the Relief Association. He has attended an estimated 750-800 fire department meetings in addition to training sessions at regional and state fire schools, and has responded to over 3,000 fire calls, even putting his life on the line. He and his wife Deanna have two children, twins Lauren and Stephen. He has been a banker since 1985 and is currently the market retail manager for Bremer Bank.

The Bob Harris Memorial Award is presented annually to a person "who has demonstrated the community spirit and leadership that was personified by Bob."

Three "Everyday Hero" Awards were also presented by incoming 2006 United Way president Melissa Lage, in the adult, teen and youth categories.

The adult recipient was Cindy Sauer, who was honored for her work as a cook for the Lake Park Senior Center and Lincoln Park Assisted Living in Detroit Lakes, as well as volunteering at Lincoln Park and with the Lake Park Garden Club, Lake Park American Legion Auxiliary, Lund Lutheran Church and the Becker County Knit for Kids project. She and her husband, John, have two daughters, Jessica, 17, and Maria, 3.

Two recipients were named in the teen category. Kellcee Baker and Jena Zachariason were honored for their work on behalf of cancer awareness with the Lake Park Audubon Family Career and Community Leaders Group, which has included the Cuddles for Cancer stuffed animal project, Cookies for Cancer fund raiser, and a "Facts of Cancer" presentation that has helped educate over 325 students in grades 7-12.

There were four winners in the youth category. MaKinzie, Hannah and Austin Gedrose and Jon Melgaard were honored for their project to create and sell greeting cards to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The foursome raised over $5,000 for the American Red Cross's hurricane relief efforts.

Other awards presented at Wednesday's luncheon included:

Community Spirit-Business: Foltz Trucking.

Community Spirit-Individual: Sue Braun.

Community Pride: The students and staff of Frazee-Vergas High School.

A total of 23 local businesses were also honored with gold, silver and bronze awards for their employee contributions to the United Way.

Jerry Schutz, outgoing United Way president, said these businesses had raised 55 percent of the organization's total budget for the current year.

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