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2017 Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point-Crosslake Citizen of the Year: Anderson honored for volunteerism and musical skills

Renee Anderson sits at her piano that commands space in the living room of her Pequot Lakes home. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

It's likely that anyone who doesn't recognize the name "Renee Anderson" has unknowingly heard the Pequot Lakes woman play the piano at some area event.

Anderson has played piano at various area events, she's been the pianist/organist at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes, and she has taught piano students at her Pequot Lakes home - all since 1972.

For her dedication to area piano students of all ages and to playing piano at area events and for various groups, the Echo Journal chose Anderson as the 2017 Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point-Crosslake Citizen of the Year.

At home with her husband, David, and two sons on Friday afternoon, Dec. 22, Anderson couldn't believe she received the honor. She simply loves music and wants her students to love the piano as much as she does.

"Self-expression is a very big thing," Anderson said of a reason why she enjoys playing piano. "You're giving of yourself and your music. It's a gift from God."

Besides teaching piano at her home, Anderson plays for Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts/Pequot Lakes Community Theater musicals. She acted in the group's first two musicals, "Bits of Broadway" and "Li'l Abner."

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Past winners

Past Citizen of the Year honorees include: Clarice Blaeser, 2016; Susan Mathison-Young, 2015; Dave Badger, 2014; JoAnn Weaver, 2013; Tina Grewe, 2012; Dick Wilske, 2011; Wini Kristufek, 2010; Dave Guenther, 2009; Bob Spizzo, 2008; Forbes and Germaine Martinson, 2006; Cathy Malecha, 2005; Joe and Barb Bergquist, 2004; Ron and Darlene Schaefer, 2003; Erik Loge, 2002; Bernice Rohde, 2001; Dan Frank, 2000; Dorothy Yund, 1999; Kathy Trees, 1997; Laine Litzau, 1996; and Ed Larsen, 1995.

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"I found it was much easier to play music than to remember one line," she said, noting she has played piano for 42 GLAPA musicals, including the most recent play, "My Fair Lady."

She used to play piano for Central Lakes College productions as well, and acted in one play, "The Sound of Music." She played piano for the Armory Theater when it was in downtown Brainerd; for Rhythm of the Rails, a former outdoor theater in Brainerd; and for the Geritol Frolics, a group of performing senior citizens, in Brainerd.

This Christmas season, Anderson played piano and led nearly a dozen Christmas singalongs at nursing homes and care centers in Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Nisswa; as well as at the Christmas Eve service at Our Savior's, where her son-in-law, a trombone player with the Air Force Band, also played. She plays piano for Memorial Day and Veterans Day services in Pequot Lakes, and has played for funerals and weddings through the years.

That's all in addition to hosting piano students at her home Mondays-Thursdays.

"Somebody asked me once if there's ever a day that went by that I didn't play," Anderson said, noting the answer is, "Not really."

She has bags all ready to go with the appropriate music, whether it be a funeral bag, wedding bag or patriotic bag.

Anderson started playing piano when she was a young elementary school student living in England with her family. She and her siblings attended a private school where students had the choice of taking dance or piano.

"I chose dance and I found out I wasn't very good," Anderson said, so she switched to piano and loved it.

Her father was a preacher, so the family moved a lot. Born in Glendive, Montana, Anderson and her family moved to Iowa and Texas before spending three years in England. The family then moved to Minnesota, living in Oklee and Barnesville, where Anderson graduated from high school. She and two siblings attended Concordia College in Moorhead, and she graduated in 1970 with a degree in music.

Anderson moved to Pequot Lakes to become an elementary school music teacher, and she never left. She met her husband, a lifelong Pequot Lakes resident, in the choir at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The Andersons have been married for 45 years. They've lived on Heath Street all those years, and Anderson has taught piano at their home for all those years. The family lost their home to a fire in February 1996 - the coldest day of the year, Anderson said. They rebuilt their home on the same site.

Anderson has taught music at Pequot Lakes and Backus schools, and she's been accompanist for the Pequot Lakes elementary and high school choirs. She is chair of the piano festival hosted each year at Pequot Lakes School for students of a dozen area piano teachers. She also teaches a water aerobics class three times a week for a small group of women and is president of her church's women's group.

The Andersons love to travel. Their four children - all of whom graduated from Concordia College - offer their parents an opportunity to travel as son Matt lives in Pennsylvania, son Joe is in Kentucky, daughter Lisa lives in Nebraska, and daughter Sara is in Montana. The couple has six grandchildren.

Kathy Trees, of Nisswa, nominated Anderson for the Citizen of the Year award, noting: "If there is anything in the area that needs to be done, or anyone that needs help, Renee will be the first in line to volunteer. I have never known a person that is so generous with her time and her talents."