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Volunteer, Lake Association award winners announced

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Jerry Horgan, left, and Jeff Stabnow, right, of COLA, with Volunteer of the Year award winner Bernie Steeves. 1 / 2
Marie Nitke/FOCUS Jerry Horgan, left, and Jeff Stabnow, right, of COLA, with Jim McLeod of the Lake Association of the Year award winner, the Little McDonald-Kerbs Lake Association. 2 / 2

The Otter Tail County Coalition of Lake Associations has announced its 2013 Volunteer of the Year and Lake Association of the Year award winners.

Winners were recognized during an awards program held Saturday morning at the Ottertail Community Center.

Bernie Steeves, of Ottertail, was named the Volunteer of the Year, the Little McDonald-Kerbs Lake Association was named Lake Association of the Year.

The Coalition of Lake Associations, or COLA, presents the awards each year to set a standard for volunteerism in the area.

In a light-hearted opening statement at the awards program, COLA’s Jerry Horgan said, “We often hear people say that volunteers are seen as amateurs just trying to do good things. Just remember – Noah’s Ark was built by amateurs, and the Titanic was built by professionals.”

Alluding to the point that volunteerism can be a challenging and thankless thing, he added that it can also bring about a tremendous amount of positive change.

And in the cases of Bernie Steeves and the Little McDonald-Kerbs Lake Association, it has.

Steeves, a 20-year member of the Otter Tail Lake Property Association, is looked upon by local lake residents as a valuable resource on many important issues.

He’s a card-carrying AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species) Inspector and a contributing member of the county’s AIS Task Force; he organized and raised the funds for a forest tent caterpillar spraying effort; he’s been a point of contact for residents in the Star and Dead Lake area regarding the Ditch 25 controversy, and; he spends countless hours communicating with the DNR, attending legislative summits, and going door-to-door to spread the news about AIS and other lake concerns.

“This is a great honor,” Steeves said as he accepted his award on Saturday.

Admitting with a chuckle that he likes to get involved – “sometimes too much” – he said that he views volunteering as a vital means of helping better the community.

“I just can’t sit back and let things be status quo,” he said. “The hardest thing about volunteering is knowing when to say ‘no.’”

He was nominated by Daniel T. Carlisle of the Otter Tail Lake Property Owners Association Board of Directors.

The Little McDonald-Kerbs Lake Association was nominated for the Lake Association of the Year award by past COLA president Shawn  Olson. The association received the award for numerous reasons, not the least of which is its efforts to raise awareness of AIS.

In recent years, the association has completed a community awareness project reminding people to “Clean, Drain, Dry: Stop aquatic hitchhikers,” through the placement of large banners in several area bait shops. It has also implemented a watercraft inspection program during the summer months, hiring a private contractor to conduct inspections, along with more than 30 trained AIS volunteer inspectors.

Nathan Olson, a former AIS Inspector for Otter Tail County, told COLA, “They really do have one heck of a volunteer watercraft inspection system... If anyone were to contact me with questions about methods for operating an AIS volunteer program, I would refer them to their lake association president.”

In addition to their work with AIS, members of the Little McDonald-Kerbs Lake Association actively create special interest committees and projects, and provide fun social events and educational meetings with expert speakers.

They also continue to participate in a county task force to make resources available to residents dealing with high water, beach and erosion issues, and they’ve worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to educate lake residents about the dangers of lead fishing tackle.

The association has participated in a county lakes assessment, and has established a grant program for lake residents to use toward storm water runoff improvements to their properties.

Jim McLeod, accepting the award on behalf of the Little McDonald-Kerbs Lake Association, thanked COLA for the honor, and commended past and present association board members for all their efforts. 

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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