Nisswa man fosters community while fixing cars
A lifelong Brainerd lakes area resident, Mike Hemmerich remembers a time when his bus ride on State Highway 371 from Nisswa to Brainerd High School was nothing more than trees and lakes all the way to the old Paul Bunyan Land.
“Now, it’s almost connected, Baxter and Nisswa,” he said. “It was the wildest thing to watch that happen.”
Hemmerich and his wife, Kim, owners of MK Auto Body on County Road 77 in Nisswa, have witnessed many changes in the area since opening their business, but mostly, they are just glad to be a part of a community they love.
Born in 1961 in Brainerd to Earl and Jeanine Hemmerich of Nisswa, Hemmerich spent his childhood in the home where his parents still reside on Roy Lake. His parents relocated to the area from Park Rapids when Earl began working at the now defunct Park Region Timber Company in Brainerd, where he was a foreman. The oldest of four children, as a child Hemmerich enjoyed many of the pastimes you’d expect from a lake country boy: fishing, bike riding, sledding, boat rides.
“It’s a lot different than today. We didn’t get to run around and go to Lutsen. Most people didn’t have snowmobiles,” he said.
After 10th grade, Hemmerich and a few of his friends became interested in motocross racing, a passion he passed along to his youngest child, Mike, a sophomore at Pequot Lakes High School (PLHS). Motocross events keep the Hemmerich family and their motorhome occupied for most of the summer. Last year, they participated in events for 18 weekends out of the year throughout the American Motorcycle Association circuit.
During the summer of 1979, just after his high school graduation, Hemmerich met his wife, Kim, who was a senior at PLHS. They married in 1983 and had their first daughter, Candace, soon thereafter. In the meantime, Hemmerich had attended vocational/technical school in Staples, the longest and only time he’s ever spent away from the lakes area, and began working at a Brainerd auto body shop.
In 1984, the family moved to where their business is now located, but it wasn’t until March 1992, soon after the birth of their second daughter, Crista, that Hemmerich’s very own auto body shop opened its doors.
“It certainly helped that I was a local, because it really took off right away,” he said. “It’s really nice to have a little family-run business in a small town where you kind of know everybody, and you kind of know you have to do a good job. It’s a little weird, but it’s really fun in the same way, knowing most of your customers and building a rapport with them.”
Around the same time as opening his business, Hemmerich joined the volunteer Nisswa Fire Department, the first of several ways he found to get involved in the community. He was part of the department for 23 years, 17 of which he served as assistant fire chief, before retiring in 2011 at age 50.
“There was a good waiting list of guys that wanted to get on, and I thought, ‘Have at ‘er, boys!’” he said.
Hemmerich was also a longtime member of the now disbanded Nisswa Jaycees, helping to organize the Winter Jubilee and serving as chairman of the annual firefighters’ Fishing Derby on Nisswa Lake. In 1996, the Jaycees awarded Hemmerich the Presidential Award of Honor, the highest award one can receive at that level of the organization. In 1998, the Minnesota Jaycees named Hemmerich as one of their Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans, which puts him with the likes of fellow recipients former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, Minnesota Twins great Dave Winfield and WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.
Hemmerich has put his fishing skills to good use as well, serving as a guide for Gov. Jesse Ventura’s fishing opener at Breezy Point Resort in 2001 and donating his time as a guide for nine years to benefit Camp Confidence Learning Center.
One of Hemmerich’s passions that makes him unique is his love for growing giant pumpkins, a hobby that began years ago with a whim of his mother’s to start a contest between the two of them.
“I beat her every year except for one,” he said.
The largest pumpkin his patch has produced to date was around 480 pounds and was featured in the Lake Country Echo in 1998. He’s never entered any contests, but he’s sure if he had entered his 480-pounder at the Crow Wing County Fair that year he would have won. Neighbors have admired Hemmerich’s pumpkins from near and far, which he found out when he thought about quitting a few years back.
“So many people will go, ‘Where’s your pumpkin patch this year?’” he said. “They’ll bring their grandkids over to take pictures on top of them. So I decided to keep doing it.”
When he has a pumpkin, Hemmerich brings it to Nisswa Elementary School in the fall, where they display it on a hay bale. The children get a chance to guess the weight, and the boy and girl whose guesses are closest win bicycles the couple donates.
Kim, who’s been a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Medical Center for more than 30 years, has tried her own hand at giant pumpkins, growing a patch at the couple’s hobby farm on County Road 4 near Lake Edward.
“She had a bigger one than me last time,” Hemmerich said.
Although last year’s late spring kept him from growing one of his monstrous pumpkins, he has every intention of growing one again this year, assuming winter eventually ends.
The hobby farm, which Kim visits every day after work to feed their chickens and three horses, is where the couple plans to retire someday. “That’s the long range plan anyway,” he said.
As for who will take over the body shop when that day comes, Hemmerich’s longtime employee and brother-in-law, Butch Pearson, may assume the helm; or his son, Mike, has also shown interest. In any case, it doesn’t appear that Hemmerich has any intentions of leaving the auto business, or the lakes area, anytime soon.
Chelsey Perkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.