Supporting youths, serving the less fortunate and showing compassion to those nearing the end of their life are three endeavors leading to Glen “Gus” Gustafson, of Lake Shore, being named the 2019 Distinguished Service Award Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

The Brainerd Jaycees and Brainerd Community Action give out Distinguished Service Awards each year to lakes area residents and organizations especially dedicated to volunteering and serving the community. Gustafson was surprised with the news Friday morning, Sept. 13, during a Brainerd Sports Boosters board meeting at the Front Street Cafe in downtown Brainerd.

Sentiments from his fellow board members filled the room.

“Great job, Gus.”

“Well-deserved ...”

“... for many years.”

It was recognition he neither expected nor wanted at first.

“I’m a very shy person, and I was very hesitant to get all this attention,” he said after letting the news sink in.

Gustafson’s nomination came with letters of support from various community organizations he has worked with over the years, including the Brainerd Sports Boosters, Lakes Area Food Shelf in Pequot Lakes, Good Samaritan Society Hospice in Nisswa and Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen in Brainerd.

He is a founding member of the sports boosters and has served on the board since 1982. Since its inception, the group has recognized more than 1,250 Athletes of the Week and administered more than $1.5 million in grants to the Brainerd School District, Central Lakes College and various other organizations for youth athletics and activities in the lakes area.

“His ideas are still a driving force in the direction of the club,” board president Joel Clough wrote in a nomination letter. “Glen’s main motivation and inspiration has been to help support youth in our area with financial grants to teams and clubs. He is an absolute joy to be around, and his knowledge is invaluable.”

While forming the sports boosters, Gustafson also organized the Brainerd Youth Athletics Association, which provides coaches, equipment and an organized schedule of games for fourth and fifth graders in the area.

Gustafson has been on the Lakes Area Food Shelf board of directors for eight years.

“He has been a loyal board member and will always volunteer to help us out with anything our clients would need,” food shelf director Carey Rasinski wrote in her nomination letter. “I have known Glen for numerous years, and he is a very kind and gentle person. I can understand why he would be nominated for this great honor.”

After being named the Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Glen Gustafson displays a handwritten note from waitress Amanda Holmes on his caramel roll box Friday, Sept. 13, at the Front Street Cafe. Steve Kohls  /  Brainerd Dispatch
After being named the Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Glen Gustafson displays a handwritten note from waitress Amanda Holmes on his caramel roll box Friday, Sept. 13, at the Front Street Cafe. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

For more than a decade, Gustafson has served as a hospice volunteer for the Good Samaritan Society, giving companionship to those who have received terminal diagnoses.

“Glen’s willingness of giving of his time is to be truly admired,” wrote Mary Fedor, hospice volunteer coordinator.

An organization close to Gustafson’s heart is the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen, where he has served on the board for 15 years and continues to serve as treasurer.

“To say he is dedicated is an understatement,” past soup kitchen president Ann Bergin wrote, noting Gustafson volunteers on top of his board duties at least once or twice a month. “We are extremely lucky to have him, and I can’t think of anyone who deserves the honor of Citizen of the Year more than Glen.”

Bob Evans, past executive director of the soup kitchen, said Gustafson’s work at the soup kitchen was of the highest caliber: “His meticulously kept records and reports have been crucial to the success of the organization through the years.”

Evans wrote he felt privileged to call Gustafson a friend and admires his devotion to his faith.

In lieu of a gift traditionally given to the Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Brainerd Community Action offered to make a donation to a charity of Gustafson’s choosing in his name. He chose the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen.

“The soup kitchen has always been special,” Gustafson said. “I’ve been the treasurer for many, many years, and we serve meals to anyone who wants a meal every single night, and it’s supported by so many organizations, from churches to service clubs. It’s just a great, great, great organization.”

Gustafson’s community service activities also include helping out in many facets at his church, Living Savior Church in Lake Shore; serving as a member of the planning and zoning commission in Lake Shore in 2016; and delivering Meals on Wheels in Brainerd for more than 10 years.

“Literally thousands of individuals have been touched and changed over the decades by Glen’s vision, service and compassion for others,” stated a nomination letter from Brian Skogen, Kevin Thesing and Jeff Hillborn. “He is humble. He is selfless. He is amazing.”

Gustafson’s reason for all his service work stems from what he believes is a blessing to live in the lakes area.

“I’ve been blessed, and I just want to give back a little bit,” he said. “So I’ve tried to be in a lot of organizations and give back and show my appreciation.”

A banquet to recognize Gustafson and the other winners of this year’s Distinguished Service Awards is set for Oct. 24 at The Woods.