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Never too busy to help

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Philanthropy takes different forms, according to Kevin Thesing of rural Brainerd, and using one’s time and talents is every bit as important as using one’s treasures.

The winner of Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation’s (BLACF) 2012 Award in Philanthropy, Thesing said he’s constantly impressed and amazed at the financial contributions community members have made to various projects. And while he respects those contributions, he said there’s much more that can be done by people who are willing to get involved.

“Take what you have (to contribute),” the co-owner of Lakes Printing said. “It’s not one or the other.”

Now in its eighth year, the award was established to honor those who work to build a better community and inspire the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Thesing will be honored at the foundation’s annual dinner on July 12.

Thesing and his life and business partner, Dode Pohlkamp, both grew up on dairy farms. He was the fifth of 10 children and she was the youngest of four. His family farmed in the South Long Lake area and hers farmed in the Pierz area. When neighbors needed a hand or a machinery part both dairy families were glad to pitch in. He said they credit their parents for modeling their own style of philanthropy. Thesing is the son of George and Gert Thesing. Pohlkamp is the daughter of the late Emil and Marie Banach,

“It’s the way we were raised,” Thesing said.

Their parents worked long hours and also helped others and they were rarely asked by anyone why they worked so hard.

“My dad got up at sunrise and worked until after dark,” Thesing said. “Nobody asked him (why he worked so hard).”

Thesing’s own roots in the area go back decades to when his German immigrant grandfather took the train to Staples and then traveled by horseback to the Fort Ripley area to search for suitable farm land.

Together, Thesing and Pohlkamp own Lakes Printing on Oak Street in Brainerd. The business started in 1988 with five partners but the other three have since retired. Thesing credits the exposure their business gives them to a wide variety of people, service clubs and nonprofits as the reason for their involvement in so many community causes.

“The community comes through our doors every day,” he said.

Many of those people come with an idea of how to better the community or looking for contributions for a good cause. The business, he said, is approached by such requests on a constant basis. Sometimes he has to say no — a decision based on an appraisal of his resources, energy and available time.

“You can’t do everything for everybody,” Thesing said. “But that should never stop you from doing what you can for somebody.”

While a printing business differs from the dairy farms of their younger days, Thesing and Pohlkamp used the work ethic they were raised with at Lakes Printing. Thesing joked that the beauty of owning your own business is that you can work half-days.

“They just have to be 12 hours, seven days a week,” he said.

All five of the initial business partners shared a philosophy that put a premium on community involvement, he said.

“If we wanted the community to be good to us, we had to be good to the community,” he said.

Thesing, 55, said there are many people similar to he and Pohlkamp who go to work every day and still manage to contribute in some way to a variety of worthwhile causes.

“If we can represent them, that’s an honor,” he said.

Pohlkamp and Thesing raised five children. They lost one child in a traffic accident involving a drunken driver. He admits to being a bit of a risk-taking entrepreneur and credits Pohlkamp with keeping him grounded.

Even during the busy years when their children were all at home, Thesing said community involvement was always part of the home/work/charity equation.

“The kids did stuff with us,” he said, which led to them being involved in various worthwhile pursuits.

Thesing attended one year of college, at the University of Minnesota-Morris, with the thought of becoming an agriculture educator. A part-time job at Bang Printing, however, exposed him to the printing business. He spent 1 1/2 years working in Duluth but was glad to return to the Brainerd community where his family lived.

The chance that he will be ribbed about his latest honor — he previously was named 1999 Brainerd Citizen of the Year, 2011 Brainerd Rotary Rotarian of the Year and 2006 Sunrise Sertoma Service to Mankind Award winner — doesn’t faze Thesing. He said he grew up in a family that was loud and raucous and he’s used to the give and take.

“The dinner’s going to be fun,” he said. “I know I’m going to be roasted a little bit, and I enjoy that.”

The BLACF is a public charity that attracts and administers charitable funds for the benefit of the local community. Since 1998, BLACF has grown to more than $5 million in assets and awarded more than $2 million in grants to area nonprofits. The foundation is affiliated with the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, which administers more than 550 funds totaling more than $74 million. More information is available at

Past recipients of the Award in Philanthropy are Kevin Close and Rod Converse, 2011; the Cote family, 2010; Jo Ann and Arnie Johnson, 2009; Kathy and Bruce Buxton, 2008; Linda and Bernie Roberts, 2007; Fran and Clarence Holden, 2006; and John Sullivan, 2005.

The people he has met along the way are among the benefits of his own philanthropy, Thesing said. Not only has he made friends but he’s learned life lessons by listening to other community leaders and philanthropists.

“You couldn’t buy an education like that,” he said.

Influenced by his upbringing and by Mother Teresa’s admonition that charity starts with actions at home, Thesing said he tries to maintain a positive outlook on life.

“You get to choose your attitude,” he said. “I’ve chosen a positive one. I’ve chosen a happy one.”

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860