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United Way 25th anniversary event is set for April 30

The United Way of Becker County will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Thursday, April 30, with a special "25 Years of Heroes" gala at the Speak Easy restaurant in Detroit Lakes.

The festivities will begin with a 5 p.m. social hour featuring "heavy" hors d'ouevres and a cash bar.

The highlight of the evening, however, will be the United Way's annual "Celebration of Heroes" awards ceremony.

The "Celebration of Heroes" tradition, which began in 2002 (in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks), will include the presentation of two "Everyday Hero" awards -- one to an adult recipient, and one to a youth recipient.

"Anyone can make a nomination, and anyone can be nominated," said Sue Braun, 2008-09 president of the United Way board of directors. "You don't have to be a celebrity or a 'big name' in the community."

The only requirement is that the nominee must live in Becker County. As the name implies, the award is intended to honor the unsung or "everyday heroes" who give of themselves to make life better for someone else -- sometimes while facing adversity of their own.

Past adult recipients have included Joy Peterson, Marcia Otte, Brenda Houts, Linda Livingston Wiedewitsch and Cindy Sauer, while youth recipients have included Tom Zearly, Elizabeth Pihlaja, Andrew Fonderick, Madison Erickson, Ciara Grant, Jenna Mohs, Austin, Hanna and McKenzie Gedrose, Jon Melgard, Kelcee Baker and Jenna Zachariason.

The annual ceremony has also traditionally included the presentation of the Bob Harris Memorial Award, made in memory of past Wells Fargo Bank president Bob Harris, who was a dedicated United Way volunteer and supporter for more than 20 years.

This year, however, the award has been renamed. From 2009 forward, the honor will be known as the Bob and Michelle Harris Memorial Award. Bob's widow, Michelle, succumbed to cancer earlier this spring, and according to Kari Williams, a member of the United Way board of directors and the awards committee, the organizers voted to rename the award to honor Michelle as well.

It is given each year to a person "who has demonstrated the leadership, community involvement and hometown spirit personified by Bob and Michelle Harris."

Past recipients have included Jim Anderson, Rick & Kathy Michaelson, Delores Smith, Tom Thompson, Jim Sinclair and, in 2006, United Way executive director Luann Porter.

Other awards given at the annual ceremony will include the Community Spirit awards, given to both a business and an individual. The awards celebrate their contributions to and accomplishments on behalf of the United Way.

Area law enforcement personnel, emergency care and rescue workers, firefighters and military service men and women are also honored each year at the Celebration of Heroes, Braun noted.

In addition, Williams said, the celebration will honor "heroes of years past" who have made a difference in the community through the United Way over the course of its 25-year history.

"We want to recognize all those people who have played a significant role in the growth of the United Way," Braun noted, adding that they would also like to include those who were involved in the organization back when it was called the Community Chest.

Tickets for the evening celebration are $20 apiece, and can be purchased at the United Way offices, located inside the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP) office building at 803 Roosevelt Ave., or by calling executive director Luann Porter at 218-846-7400.

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