January 28, 2010 at 8:47 a.m.

Giving back was all 'part of the plan' for 2010 Ambassador's retirement years

Giving back was all 'part of the plan' for 2010 Ambassador's retirement years
Giving back was all 'part of the plan' for 2010 Ambassador's retirement years

Each year, as part of the Celebration of the Lakes festivities, the Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce selects a Community Ambassador - an individual or family who has made a significant contribution to the quality of life here, and who helps to preserve the heritage of our area.

The Chamber is pleased to announce that Gary Gerke is the 2010 Community Ambassador. Gary has a 16 year history of outstanding service to this community, beginning in 1994 when he and his wife Marna moved to Lindstrom. Gerke had served on the Planning Commission in Maplewood, MN and on his church council, and was also an active volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Gerke is a familiar figure in the Chisago Lakes area, due to the wide range of activities he is involved in. He's been a member of the Lions Club for 16 years, and is currently President. He was honored as "Lion of the Year" in 2004. He is the Trustees chair at the United Methodist Church, and is the chair of the non-denominational Christian Men's Group. He is vice-chair of the Lindstrom Planning Commission, and has been a member of the Highway 8 Task Force for 15 years. He was appointed to the Highway 8 Redevelopment Committee by the Lindstrom City Council. He volunteers for the DNR's clean-up of public access lots on North Center Lake and South Center Lake. He has adopted Olinda Trail, from 292nd to 299th St. in Lindstrom, for litter pickup, etc.

Gerke is active with American Legion Post 272. He was involved in the planning and installation of the Chisago County Veteran's Memorial in Lindstrom, and the renovation of the old Lindstrom Library, now the Chamber of Commerce office and Information Center. He was involved with erecting Lindstrom Park Board playground equipment and served on the Band Shell Committee for Lion's Park. He also serves on the Lindstrom Streetscape Committee.

Gerke is definitely a "man about town." He occasionally gives tours to visitors at the Karl Oskar House "Nya Duvemala" at Ki Chi Saga Park. When he travels he brings back information and ideas for improving our own community and the visitor experience in our area. He was chosen to be the Grand Marshal of the Karl Oskar Days parade in 2008. He serves as an election judge and was involved with the Lakes Improvement District (LID) and the Chisago Lakes Restoration Association (CLRA). He has volunteered for the Chisago Lakes Triathlon and numerous other events in the area.

Gerke somehow finds time to deliver Meals on Wheels, and is proud of his volunteer work at Family Pathways for the past 12 years. This goes to his passion for sharing resources with the less fortunate; including working at the food shelf and helping put food on the table of those who would otherwise go without.

This year's ambassador was born in Fargo, ND, and grew up in the Fargo/Moorhead area. He was the Valedictorian of his high school graduating class in Dilworth, MN. He became an apprentice electrician, and then a licensed journeyman electrician in 1960. He was married that same year, and was drafted into the Army in 1961. He completed his basic training in Colorado Springs, CO, during a time when peace slogans were publically chanted, and war was strongly protested. (His son Greg was born in El Paso, Texas in 1962.)

Gerke says those early years in his career, and in the military, were very difficult financially. For example, his military pay was $84 a month, and his car payment was $91. His military experiences were priceless, but needless to say, there were some "cashflow problems," and hardships for his family. Gerke bought a second hand bike, and rode it from his family's temporary home to Fort Bliss military base. While he was stationed in Thailand, his wife and son lived with Gary's parents in Dilworth, MN.

He was honorably discharged from the military in October, 1963, and began working as a civilian electrician at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

In 1965, Gerke and his family moved to Hoyt Lakes, MN, (where his son Jay was born in 1966.) Gerke accepted a position with Honeywell, and was relocated to the Twin Cities area in 1967. He was hired by the University of MN in 1969 and retired after 31 years, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The University honored Gerke with a gift that depicted the progress made on the St. Paul campus during his career. This type of recognition is typically not given to a "blue collar" worker, and exemplifies the type of dedication and commitment Gerke gives all of his endeavors.

A few years after his divorce in 1972, a friend encouraged Gerke to join Parents Without Partners, where he met Marna. Gary and Marna were married in 1977, and Gary helped raise her young children Jon, Rhea and Melanie. He is very proud that all of the children have pursued a higher education than that which he achieved. Marna completed her degree several years after they were married, while also working at the U of M and raising the family.

Gary and Marna have six grandchildren, and have the good fortune of having the two youngest, ages 3 and 5, reside just a few miles away.

To quote the late Danny Thomas, "Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It's what you do for others." Gerke appreciates everything he has and his plan for retirement was to volunteer and "give back."

The Chisago Lakes Chamber is proud that Gary has chosen to live in this community, and so willingly gives of himself. He will be recognized by the Chamber at the Celebration of the Lakes balloon pilot's reception Friday evening, January 29. He will also be out on North Center Lake during the weekend events. He will represent the Chamber at community events throughout the year, including the Karl Oskar and Ki Chi Saga parades. Please be sure to congratulate Gary, and thank him for all that he has contributed to the Chisago Lakes Area.

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