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Nisswa: Fairbanks is Citizen of the Year

As a group of perplexed Nisswa Chamber representatives waited at a Pequot Lakes church, the person they planned to surprise - but couldn't find - was buzzing south on Highway 371 to Brainerd in her mini van.

Nancy Vogt/Echo JournalLynn Fairbanks reacts upon learning she was named the 2016 Nisswa Citizen of the Year on Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the Schaefer's Foods parking lot. 2015 Nisswa Citizen of the Year Mike Burns congratulates Fairbanks with flowers.
Lynn Fairbanks reacts upon learning she was named the 2016 Nisswa Citizen of the Year on Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the Schaefer's Foods parking lot. 2015 Nisswa Citizen of the Year Mike Burns congratulates Fairbanks with flowers. Nancy Vogt/Echo Journal

As a group of perplexed Nisswa Chamber representatives waited at a Pequot Lakes church, the person they planned to surprise - but couldn't find - was buzzing south on Highway 371 to Brainerd in her mini van.

Lynn Fairbanks was supposed to be working her part-time shift at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 14. That day's United Way Chili Cook-Off in Brainerd had already changed her schedule, and then she remembered her son, Justin, had Special Olympics bowling practice that afternoon.

That's why the 2016 Nisswa Citizen of the Year was on her way to Brainerd instead of working at the church, where the contingent had arranged to surprise Fairbanks with the honor. After a moment of indecision, the group quickly moved to Plan B.

Shawn Hansen, chamber executive director/CEO, called Fairbanks and, upon learning she was on her way to Brainerd, asked if she'd turn around and meet Hansen in the Schaefer's Foods parking lot. Hansen promised it would be worth Fairbanks' time.

"I thought maybe Shawn had turtle wrangler money for me," said Fairbanks, executive directive of the Mounted Eagles Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, referring to the funds that program receives for providing and caring for turtles during the summer races.

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When Hansen reiterated that Fairbanks wouldn't regret backtracking, she said with a smile, "I thought, oooohhh, it's a lot of money."

Instead of a check for Mounted Eagles, a group of cars pulled up next to Fairbanks' van in the grocery store parking lot and when all exited, 2015 Nisswa Citizen of the Year Mike Burns approached Fairbanks with flowers. Hansen announced this was the first time in her recollection that the citizen of the year honor was bestowed outside in a parking lot.

"I'm surprised," Fairbanks said with a broad smile, adding the list of past citizens of the year included "pretty awesome people."

Hansen briefly outlined the extensive list of volunteering "the Hemmerich girl from Nisswa" has done over her lifetime. Cindy Terwilliger and Aggie Stroot both submitted nomination letters for Fairbanks, who grew up in Nisswa as Lynn Hemmerich and attended Nisswa Elementary School. Today, she and her husband, Mike, live in Nisswa and are parents to Justin and Sarah. Sarah attends the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

"Giving of herself to help others is one of Lynn's characteristics," Terwilliger wrote in her nomination letter. "Community service is a huge part of her life."

Terwilliger has known Fairbanks since 1999, when the Fairbanks' children joined the Black Bear 4-H Club.

"Lynn made a great 4-H parent and was involved in everything the club did," Terwilliger wrote. "Her kids have now graduated out of the 4-H program but Lynn still attends meetings and is very active in our club and with the Crow Wing County 4-H program."

Fairbanks has been executive director of the Mounted Eagles Therapeutic Horsemanship Program since 2011 and was always involved in her children's school activities and her church.

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"Last year when the Miss Nisswa Scholarship Pageant needed volunteers to see that the pageant would happen, Lynn was one of the first to volunteer," Terwilliger wrote.

Stroot met Fairbanks in 2000 through Mounted Eagles.

"It wasn't long until I knew that Lynn was an exceptional mother as well as a compassionate, committed, loyal and dedicated person with high morals and family values," Stroot wrote in her nomination. "These values spilled over into the love of her community as well."

Fairbanks is involved in Special Olympics and started a Special Olympics Equestrian team for Minnesota's Area 5. And through her position with Mounted Eagles she has helped with the Nisswa Turtle Races the past several summers.

"She recruits wranglers, locates the turtles, provides a safe summer home for the turtles, feeds and cares for them and returns them to the wild at the end of the season," Stroot wrote. "She hauls the turtles to the races every week, takes part in the event and hauls them back home until the next week. She monitors the safety of the wranglers as well and makes sure they are properly rewarded for their volunteer hours each week."

Stroot added: "I am the mother of a special needs child who passed away a number of years ago so I know the extra time and patience it takes to care for a child who has challenges. Lynn has become my role model, icon, mother of the century and whatever other fitting name you can think of because of her commitment to her son and daughter, Justin and Sarah. Justin has challenges but that hasn't kept Lynn from keeping him involved in every activity that Sarah was a part of too."

Terwilliger wrote: "There is no one more dedicated or knowledgeable about community service and service learning than Lynn Fairbanks."

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Nancy Vogt/Echo JournalSlabs of barbecued ribs are ready to be cut and served by Sweet Smoke Ring BBQ as part of the Smokin' Hot BBQ Contest on Saturday, Sept. 17, in downtown Nisswa.
Slabs of barbecued ribs are ready to be cut and served by Sweet Smoke Ring BBQ as part of the Smokin' Hot BBQ Contest on Saturday, Sept. 17, in downtown Nisswa. Nancy Vogt/Echo Journal

Related Topics: NISSWA
Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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