2015 Kiwanis Citizen of the Year Chuck Amunrud, center, was honored last Sunday by numerous family and friends.  After accepting the Citizen of the Year plaque, Amunrud posed with his wife, Deb, at left, and daughter, Nicole Benzon, at right. PAULA BARNESS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
2015 Kiwanis Citizen of the Year Chuck Amunrud, center, was honored last Sunday by numerous family and friends. After accepting the Citizen of the Year plaque, Amunrud posed with his wife, Deb, at left, and daughter, Nicole Benzon, at right. PAULA BARNESS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

Members of the community came together on Sunday, Oct. 18, to honor Chuck Amunrud as the 2015 Kiwanis Citizen of the Year.

Spring Valley Kiwanis member Bill Rowen, who emceed the program, told the crowd the club has been honoring citizens of the year since 1976, making this the 40th celebration.  Forty-nine individuals have been chosen for the honor in that time.

“It doesn’t carry a lot of responsibility,” Rowen said of the honor. “It is the responsibilities that Chuck has carried before this time that have, in effect, qualified him and earned him this recognition as Citizen of the Year. It is a crown that you can wear very comfortably.”

Kiwanis President Rita Bezdicek continued, “This is something our community is proud of, to honor someone who has worked to make the community and area a better place to live.”

Spring Valley resident and former Fillmore County Veterans Services Officer (CVSO) Nathan Pike was the first speaker to reminisce about his time with Amunrud.

“The first time I can remember meeting Chuck Amunrud was in 2009 and he was working the breakfast.  I was to relieve him and I was late,” Pike joked. “The next time I met Chuck was when I applied for the Fillmore County CVSO job and I was the interviewee and he was the interviewer.”

Pike and Amunrud quickly became “partners in crime” for the efficacy of the state veterans cemetery that will become operational on Nov. 12.

“We all know about the cemetery — when and how it went, because it is opening. It got there and a lot of that was because of the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners at that time and their steadfast determination to get this done,” Pike said.

The two spent many days at the state Capitol giving a presentation before the state Legislature on why a veterans’ cemetery was necessary and why it should be in Fillmore County.

Pike recalled cornering Gov. Mark Dayton together and giving him the project plans and telling him that he needed to sign off on this.

Beyond just the memories they shared with their work in the county, the two became fellow students at the College of St. Scholastica.

“Chuck sat down with me and said you can do this and we made it through some of those hard steps of school,” Pike said.

In closing, Pike told Amunrud, who, along with his wife, Deb, has recently moved to Northfield, not to be a stranger in this community.

“The community is going to miss you.  Don’t be a stranger, you know where we are all at and you are always welcome,” Pike said.

Fillmore County Sheriff Tom Kaase then took the microphone to share his memories of Amunrud.

Kaase began by listing words to describe Amunrud, including dedicated, honorable, hardworking, civic-minded, patriotic, green thumb, committed, caring humorous and humble.

Kaase recalled Amunrud’s time on the Spring Valley City Council and his various committees.

“If you ever Google Chuck Amunrud, you’ll need to look at pages because he is involved in a lot of things. Before I knew him on a more personal level on the county board, I’d read the Spring Valley Tribune and the local papers and you saw how busy he was through his council work.  He was always there working hard for the people,” Kaase commented.

As a former Fillmore County commissioner, Kaase met Amunrud in 2009.

“When we were on the board we had a lot of fun,” Kaase recalled. “He talks about being one-fifth of the board of commissioners when it came to different decisions, but he put a tremendous amount of work, over and beyond the rest of us, on the cemetery that is opening. So he talks about the one-fifth, but he did more than his share and it is greatly appreciated,” Kaase said.

In closing, Kaase told the group, “One thing that we also need to do is say thank you to Deb and his family, because we all know we are where we are because of those that love and support us.”

Fellow Kiwanis member Rita Hartert said, “It was sometime in August when Kiwanis began searching for Citizen of the Year candidates. I went home and told Bruce that I had someone in mind and I mentioned Chuck’s name and he agreed,” Hartert said. “I’m very impressed with his leadership to bring the cemetery to Fillmore County.”

Hartert also reminded the group that Amunrud played a vital part in creating the Spring Valley Area Food Shelf 10 years ago.

“He got together with area pastors and local citizens and said this is what we need to do; there was no disagreement about it. He then went one step further and through his contacts with the city he found us (the food shelf) our first home,” Hartert said.

She noted he was custodian at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, was involved with the local garden club and is a lifelong learner.

“I’m proud that you accepted this nomination,” Hartert told Amunrud. “ Northfield is the one that is gaining and it is our loss here in Spring Valley, but we are also very grateful for the years you were with us.”

Fellow Our Savior’s parishioner Don Rose spoke of the many repair projects Amunrud had him do.

“When Chuck was a janitor I was his unofficial assistant and he got me into so many repair jobs that I’m still doing them!” Rose joked.

He also shared memories of creating a handicapped bathroom on the main floor of the church in a space that was once the janitor’s closet, sorting through 400 chairs they received for free and reattaching all the pews to the floor of the church.

“I’ve enjoyed the times I’ve worked with Chuck,” Rose concluded.

The program then took a more emotional turn as Amunrud’s daughter, Nicole Benzon, took her turn to speak about her father.

“Over the years I’ve watched my dad talk freely to anyone who had a listening ear. As I have visited Spring Valley over the past 20 years I have seen countless folks from around town stop by and say hello. People have always been drawn to my dad’s energy, joking nature and helpful attitude,” Benzon said. “Growing up with Chuck, my dad was the person who always had somewhere to go or something to get done. Seldom were my dad’s hand’s idle.”

She remembered the meaningful conversations Amunrud had with everyone from the clerk at the hardware store to a neighbor.

“I believe the community of Spring Valley has also felt this energy of kindness and thought, but I think what my brother and I learned most from our dad is being a part of something bigger than yourself and how to be part of a community,” Benzon expressed. “I’m grateful for having his examples of stewardship and generosity in my life.”   

Benzon noted that while her father was receiving the award it is her mother who waters his roots.

“He is a generous citizen and he has sown many seeds for future generations in this community,” Benzon said in closing.

Then it was time for Amunrud to address the crowd filled with his friends and family.

“It was homecoming that we chose you guys. We were here 20 years ago looking for a home and we ran into a homecoming parade downtown and we sat and watched in awe of the spirit of those kids and their supporters,” Amunrud recounted. “There was a home for sale on the corner and Deb said that’s it and that is how it happened.”

He spoke of how restoring the old house, which was at one point the home of the historical society, brought he and Deb closer and in a way restored their marriage each step of the way.

And as a farewell gift the couple gave a map of Spring Valley in 1874 to the Spring Valley Historical Society.

In a touching full circle moment, Amunrud spoke of riding in the last homecoming parade just before they moved.

Amunrud told the group, “This is in some way, a way of saying goodbye because suddenly we had to sell our home. We had a week and a half to get out; now you think of 20 years of accumulation! We’ve settled in Northfield and it is growing on us already.”

Though they may live in a new community now, Amunrud said, “You can move, but you can’t leave.”

He concluded by saying, “We were happy to be an active part of this community. And I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the committed and involved people in this community – you’ve got a great foundation.  You people are located in truly God’s country and you can be proud of that.”