Maybe it isn’t obvious on the face of it, but the fingerprints of Dutch and Irma Cragun can be found, hidden just beneath the surface, in every corner of the Brainerd lakes area - from the Lakes Area Music Festival and Arts in the Park, to handing out free golf outings for veterans of the armed services.
At a banquet Thursday night, July 11, prominent members of the region paid testament to that fact. The Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation presented Dutch and Irma Cragun this year’s Award in Philanthropy in recognition for decades of community activism, volunteerism and philanthropy that’s enriched the Brainerd lakes area. The two were awarded with a tree sculpture of stained glass and metal made by local artist Greg Rosenberg.
“Now it’s time to recognize a couple from our community who have been active in quiet philanthropy, planting trees if you will, and helping make our community an even better place to live,” BLACF board member Tim Bergin said as introduction. “When we told people who our recipients were this year, we inevitably heard, ‘What a great choice!’”
Grand View Lodge played host to a banquet hall packed wall to wall with more than 350 people - community leaders, nonprofit gurus and local business titans, all chattering excitedly together in conversations punctuated with “That’s so Irma,” and “Classic, classic Dutch.”
In “true Dutch fashion,” the award ceremony started with a generous gift from the man of the hour - a pair of tickets for each table to enjoy a trip with Cragun’s Gull Lake Cruises. Then, in “true Dutch fashion,” Dutch mounted the stage to a standing ovation and ended it with a good-natured bark: “Sit down!”
What followed was a free-wheeling, by-the-seat-of-your-pants acceptance speech that veered off topic and bounced from story to story with an occasional, “Well, at any rate,” to shift gears. It was a roller coaster involving everything from presidential bunkers and his election to a board chairmanship while away on a bathroom break, to a plagiarized review of his own Heartland Symphony cobbled from snipped newspaper clippings, and auctions conducted in a pitch-black, rain-soaked room stocked with “purple” beef after a series of technical failures in inclement weather.
All the while, Dutch Cragun, 87, gesticulated broadly and gripped the lectern, yanking his mic back and forth while he started a story, stopped a story, offered the mic to Irma, then yanked it back again for another quip with a stage presence Elvis Presley-esque, circa “Jailhouse Rock.”
“Thank you so much for that honor,” Dutch said, slipping the honorifics between an anecdote about the beginnings of Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake and convincing his wife to “take a big risk” and marry him. “Thank you all.”
“It’s such an honor just to be nominated, but to be named and have all you people show up?” Irma added. “It’s amazing.”
As longtime owners of Cragun’s Resort in East Gull Lake, the couple has stood as an influential presence in the lakes area for more than half a century, helming a resort first founded in the 1940s that’s gone on to employ thousands of people. In the meantime, Dutch and Irma Cragun have actively supported veterans organizations, artistic and cultural initiatives and fundraisers for people in need, among other area causes.
During a video presentation, community members spoke of a couple who founded Arts in the Park and, faithfully, year after year, attended the Lakes Area Music Festival in the front row. They pointed to acts of philanthropy, such as the couple footing a major portion of the bill to renovate Central Lake College’s Dryden Theatre at a drop of a hat, or donating 15,000 green fees for service veterans as part of their "Free Golf For Veterans” initiative. In a perfect blend of their love for the arts and the lakes area, the Craguns also donated the statue of Paul Bunyan greeting visitors at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce welcome center.
Dutch and Irma have been involved with several community organizations, including public TV and radio, Heartland Symphony, Minnesota Arts Council, Mount Ski Gull, Kinship Partners, Camp Confidence, the Brainerd and Nisswa chambers of commerce and the Gull Chain of Lakes Association.
The Craguns have also made their mark in the Minnesota Resort Association, where Dutch served as a past president, plus membership in the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce; Minnesota Safety Council; Congress of Minnesota Resorts; Explore Minnesota Golf, along with a stint as American representatives to the International Hotel and Restaurant Association to boot.