Citizen of the Year not done climbing ladder

Julie Mlinar thanks the community, her friends and family for coming to the ceremony and reception in her honor. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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“I first met Julie while serving on the Spring Valley Historical Society (SVHS) board, and I have always been impressed by her passion…especially when this isn’t her own hometown,” wrote Geraldine Williams in a letter read by Spring Valley Kiwanis Club member Jeff Thauwald, standing before a gathering of Julie Mlinar’s family, friends and Spring Valley area neighbors last Sunday afternoon as the Kiwanis honored her for her devotion to the community and the people in it. 

Mlinar was honored as 2018 Spring Valley Citizen of the Year in a ceremony at the Spring Valley Community Center. The Kiwanis designates this honor annually.

“Even though her role as director is a paying position, she gladly and equally gave the same amount or even more of her time to the Historical Society,” Williams wrote. She also listed the work that Mlinar, the former SVHS director, had done for SVHS and its museums during her tenure and does still as she volunteers her time with the society following her resignation, showing her character in the same fashion as she has done in all her community and home endeavors. 

“She has…been seen hopping around at Easter at the egg hunt at Good Earth Village, and she’s been helping Santa at Christmas, too.  Congratulations, Julie,” concluded the letter.

SVHS volunteers Don and Judy Rose, the club’s 2017 honorees, had their turn to honor Mlinar, whom they know well from their time shared on the SVHS board. 

Judy spoke first, saying, “I learned a whole lot more about Julie while working with her at the museum.  When our bonnet supplier informed us that they were raising prices, Julie came up with her own pattern and made our bonnets.  She’s also made ornaments for the gift shop, Laura and Almanzo dolls, and one day, we were talking about things to sell at craft sales, and the next thing I know, we have doll clothes to sell at the museum because Julie went home and made some.  All the things she makes, we didn’t have to pay for.  She caters our annual meeting, she’s catered the Christmas and Mother’s Day teas and the ice cream social, and after she resigned, she came back and took the time to volunteer with Marilyn Erdman to make the pioneer school days happen.  And if you think that the museums are the only things she’s active in, you’re mistaken.  She’s a very, very busy lady.  If there’s something going on in town, it doesn’t matter if she does or doesn’t get paid, she’s always there, smiling in the background.  Thank you, Julie.” 

Don Rose took up the conversation next, sharing, “One of the projects that had to be done at the museum was the garage, but you can’t paint a garage if the siding is falling off.”  He noted that the siding was neatly replaced, and without further ado, Mlinar picked up a paintbrush and went to work on the garage alongside others who felt that it needed to get done.  And the driveway alongside the museums needed holes filled with gravel.  “The load of gravel was dropped off.  Guess who was out there shoveling gravel?” 

He then addressed Mark Mlinar about how his spouse is seen all over town, tackling things if she sees a need. 

“Mark — I wasn’t going to forget you.  We couldn’t do all these activities without Julie’s family,” he said.  “And when there was a hole in the top of the church museum’s shingles, I took a ladder out there and set it up.  Julie was the first one up the ladder.  I thought, ‘If she can climb that ladder, so can I.’ But the ladder had to be moved and set up a second time, and Julie was the first one up the ladder again.  And so I thought again, ‘If she can go up there a second time, so can I’.  We went up there to find that the squirrels had chewed a hole in the shingles.” 

SVHS board President Joe Bezdicek used visual aids to teach the attendees about Mlinar’s determination, bringing with him a stepladder to commemorate that and another occasion, then telling about how there had been wasps in the church museum, and how Mlinar wondered how they were getting in.  It turned out that they were in the bell, and every time someone demonstrated how to use the bell pull, there was a storm of angry insects. 

“And a 140-year-old church should have leaks in the roof after all that time,” he commented as Mlinar piped up, “Not on my watch.” 

Bezdicek numbered the farm implements that he and Mlinar had decorated for the annual Christmas on Historic Broadway parade and how each year, there’d be a tangle of Christmas lights that he had to disentangle.  “We even decorated a manure spreader,” he recalled.

Thauwald returned to give an even broader picture of what Mlinar does, elaborating that when local resident Greg Melartin wanted to partner with the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce to hold the first Fins & Films celebration in downtown Spring Valley, chamber President Mlinar gave him her attention and encouragement, and Fins & Films is now a nonprofit organization separate from the chamber, functioning to show off all the great things downtown Spring Valley has to offer. 

“I don’t remember the first time I met Julie, but it must’ve been the first time she auditioned and was awarded a role with Brave Community Theatre (BCT).  She has a wonderful musical voice…and the thing that I’m most proud of is talking her into being on the BCT board of directors.  When we were making sets, I thought I heard her say, ‘Save me some cardboard and I can make it happen,’ and she did.  She’s one of the most modest people I know,” said Thauwald.  “I also want to acknowledge the man behind the woman.  Mark, because the first time I talked with him, he lamented that she did not have enough opportunities to participate in theatre to the level she wanted.  I want to thank Mark and the family for being supportive of this smart, creative woman.”

Friend Lynette Kuno echoed Thauwald’s statement that Mlinar is known for her skill in turning a cardboard box into just about anything imaginable, sharing that she’s known as “The Queen of Cardboard” among her church friends, as well as “Julia Kid, French chef,” a character that Mlinar invented for various social events the church has hosted. 

“Her most visible service has been participating in our worship teams…at Freedom Fest, in our programs, at all our special events — she was on the platform, lending her voice,” said Kuno.  “I’ve been involved on prayer teams with Julie and heard her pray for her community, that God would bless the people.  The things she’s done…it’s a long list.  She’s my favorite friend, and now she’s Citizen of the Year.  Congrats, Julie.” 

Mlinar’s son, Justin, rounded out the guest speakers.  “It’s actually really an amazing day, because I realized at some point that this would happen,” he said. “I just didn’t realize that we could get her to sit still this long.  She’s probably made a grocery list and planned supper for all of you.” 

The audience giggled, after which Justin stated, “You may not know this, but when I was a young child, my parents made the decision to homeschool my siblings and I, and there are things that they taught us that you don’t learn in school, like to love others, even when they might be unlovable, doing good even when no one is watching, showing respect — especially when it’s due and even when it’s not, humility, and so many, many more things.  They didn’t just tell us — they taught us by doing.  We even went to Mexico to build a church for a poor town, and we learned so much that we did it twice.  Later on, she ended up taking one of my other brothers on a mission trip in Africa.  They wanted us to be consistent in all things, because without consistency, every small act isn’t all that important.  It takes someone really special to be consistent, respectful and loving.  These are the things that you always want to see your children being, but to see that in your parents grows your pride in your parents.  She’s being who she is — amazing, truly special, consistent in her values, even before she’s Kiwanis Citizen of the Year.  Being Citizen of the Year is not her end game, so be ready for the next 20 years.”

Finally, Mlinar had her chance.  “I’m really overwhelmed.  Who is this person they’ve all talked about?  I want to meet her.  I think sometimes we forget all that we do,” she said. “Thank you to everybody who came today, all the people.  We have people from Sioux Falls, people from Atlanta…and the people here from Spring Valley.  You’re so important and I love you all.  It’s a good feeling.  Thank you to the Kiwanis for this great honor of being selected Citizen of the Year, and thank you so much to everyone for coming to spend the day with me.  It’s so much appreciated.  I love you all.”