On Monday, Oct. 4, a group gathered at Bites Grill and Bar in Pine River awaiting the announcement of the annual Pine River Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award winner.
The biggest surprise likely came when two brothers, Carl and Jerry Anderson, were named to share the 53rd iteration of the prize alongside many of their peers, including their own father, who they say inspired them to serve their community through their business involvement and volunteerism.
"I think both of our parents encouraged us to get involved in the community early on," Jerry said.
" We need as many young people involved in all these things, because we need ideas like these ballfields, the depot or bluegrass festival, the bowling alley. These were all ideas and they needed people to get involved"
— Jerry Anderson.
"He didn't have to be in the front of anything," Carl said. "He just went out and planted trees with the Lions."
Francis Anderson, the 2001 winner of the honor, served as a role model for Carl, Jerry and their sister, Chris, growing up. They each remember his dedication to Carl's Market (named after Carl Nies), the former grocery store on Barclay Avenue. Francis worked there for the former owners, Larry and Fran Qualley, before he and his wife, Luella, bought it in 1974.
His children also remember the effort he put into his community service. Francis's time organizing the annual fly in breakfast at the regional airport sticks out particularly well to the brothers.
"My dad was a pilot and he kind of got that whole fly in breakfast going," Jerry said. "He used to fly to other airports and see what other towns were doing. A lot of times that's how you get your ideas. It involved a lot of different people. We had a lot of different things. We had hot air balloons some years."
"He was so organized," Carl said. "For months at a time he would put the ads with the flying magazines and he would make sure people were lined up to do stuff. When he was doing it, it was organized."
It's no surprise then that they too took over that same mantle. Carl and Jerry both grew up in Pine River where they were active in sports, and they both left to attend college after graduation. Carl went to Brainerd Community College, now Central Lakes College in Brainerd, and Jerry went to Bemidji State University.
Carl came back after one year and continued work at the store. His father immediately talked him into representing the store with the Pine River Chamber of Commerce.
"I did a stint right away when I got back," Carl said. "Dad made sure he got me an associate membership. They were looking for new people on the board so I did go on the board."
Carl served on the board for years, serving as vice president, then president. He remembers that their meetings always had special guests.
" When you get older it's like seeing colorful leaves and having it be really important. When you're younger there's going to be another year and you're going to see more leaves, but when you get older you appreciate some of those things more."
— Carl Anderson.
Jerry spent more time away, finishing a four-year degree in math education and teaching for a couple years. However, he too returned.
"Throughout the time I was there, there were kids that needed some extra help," Jerry said. "I worked tutoring math for several kids in town here just to help them."
When offered the chance, the siblings bought out Francis in 1989, and for years that's how it was. Carl was in charge of the meat department, Jerry managed the rest and Chris took care of the numbers.
"My sister's in the office up there now," Carl said. "She's so organized. She's very good."
In a way they also divvied up their volunteer work. Carl was on the chamber board and fire department; Jerry was a Lions Club and First Lutheran Church board member. They also tried to revive a local branch of the Jaycees, but it only lasted for a handful of years.
However, both fondly remember the work they put in to build the Shamp's softball fields, before which the ballfields at the school were overbooked all summer.
"Back then softball teams were big," Jerry said. "There were several in Pine River. In fact, they even had a church league that played amongst themselves. All we had was one baseball diamond at the school, which we couldn't always use because sometimes the school needed it for baseball."
"We had to practice on a hill by the school because the diamonds were all taken," Carl said. "At that time the church league was big and the women's league. We practiced running down slopes and we decided we needed something."
Trying to scrape something together, they found the city had a large plot of land that was only used to grow corn by Archie Shamp. Once an alternate cornfield was found for Shamp, they were able to start developing a field. It wasn't all at once, however, as they played for some time on dirt. Carl remembers spending lots of time picking rocks that the frost pushed out of the soil onto the baselines.
"I remember Saturday nights picking rocks and throwing them off the field," Carl said. "We were playing on dirt and the rocks kept coming up."
The brothers and the rest of the Pine River Softball Association organized as many donations and volunteers as they could muster and built the early field in the same location as it is found today. They were able to get free lumber for the backstops by cutting down enormous white oaks from a donor's yard and having them milled. Someone donated block for dugouts and they got the bleachers from the Walker school. They were meant to be folding bleachers, but they didn't fold well and were falling apart. When welded open, they made for a nice set of permanent bleachers.
"A lot of stuff had to come together," Carl said. "We sold signs on the fields. We got four to start with and then people wanted to be on there because someone else was."
After 20 years of ownership, the siblings received an offer from the owner of what is now Family Market to buy out Carl's Market. Jerry said he handled the negotiations, including one important stipulation.
"It took almost a full year of negotiations to get that done," Jerry said. "Part of the requirement was that all the people would have jobs at the other store."
Chris and Carl have stayed on at the store ever since, but Jerry left after 10 months. He managed Lake Country Foods in Emily and then was a salesman for Mason Brothers Wholesale Grocery until his retirement in 2017.
"I think the biggest thing for me that I missed when we sold the business was the people you get to know," Jerry said. "When you're not there all of the sudden you don't know a lot of people. To me it was the interaction with the community."
Carl still puts in time at Family Market, though he has fewer hours after developing health issues, including hip pain and surgery to remove a cancerous mass.
Both try, like their parents, to inspire community involvement in their children.
"Katie and Sarah came and worked with us whether it was at the pancake feed for the Lions or a tree planting, or cleaning up the ditches and all that stuff," Jerry said. "(We were) trying to pass on that same idea to get involved."
Carl stressed how important family is to that style of life. They not only help to support you along the way, but they need to be an important priority as well.
"When you get older it's like seeing colorful leaves and having it be really important," Carl said. "When you're younger there's going to be another year and you're going to see more leaves, but when you get older you appreciate some of those things more."
Each year's Distinguished Service Award winners are chosen by past winners. Jay Cline, 2018 winner, spoke on behalf of the committee.
"(They showed) outstanding community service, promotion of our community and area in a positive manner and they have very upstanding character," Cline said.
Cline said the chamber always receives several nominations and the ultimate decision is always difficult.
"There are so many good community contributors in our area," Cline said.
The Anderson brothers felt grateful for the honor.
"I was pretty surprised," Jerry said. "Carl's the same way I am. We didn't do it for the awards. We do it to improve the community. I'm very humbled, really."
"It's a very nice thing to be recognized," Carl said. "I've been thinking about it lately because of my hip and I've had some stuff cut out ... To be recognized is kind of validating."
As a final word, Jerry encouraged the younger generation to be involved in their community.
"We need as many young people involved in all these things, because we need ideas like these ballfields, the depot or bluegrass festival, the bowling alley. These were all ideas and they needed people to get involved," Jerry said.
Jerry quoted Marshall McLuhan, saying: "There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew," meaning we all have a hand in maintaining and steering the world.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.