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United Way to celebrate '25 years of heroes' April 30

DETROIT LAKES - For 25 years now, the United Way of Becker County has been making a difference in the lives of hundreds of families and individuals in need.

And on Thursday, April 30, the organization will celebrate that milestone in combination with its annual "Celebration of Heroes" awards banquet.

Tentatively called "25 Years of Heroes" -- plans for the celebration had not yet been finalized at press time -- the event is slated to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Speak Easy Restaurant, 1100 North Shore Drive, Detroit Lakes.

"It's going to be an evening celebration this year," said Luann Porter, executive director.

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 & McKenzie Gedrose, Jon Melgard, Kelcee Baker and Jenna Zachariason.

Also presented at the ceremony will be the annual 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.

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

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

Nominations for the Everyday Hero and Bob Harris Memorial awards will be accepted through April 1. Nomination forms, available through the United Way, must be completed in full and submitted no later than April 1.

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.

But in addition to these annual awards, the 2009 celebration will also commemorate those people who have contributed to and volunteered on behalf of the United Way over the past 25 years. Local musician Tim Eggebraaten is working on a special folk song to commemorate the event, said Braun.

"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.

In fact, Porter said, if anyone knows of someone they feel should be honored at the celebration, they should contact the United Way of Becker County at P.O. Box 348, Detroit Lakes, MN 56502, by phone at 218-846-7400 or 800-492-4804, or by e-mail at

(Everyday Hero and Bob Harris Memorial Award nominations may also be submitted by mail to the address listed above.)

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