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Gary Walters named Brainerd Outstanding Citizen of the Year

Gary Walters is congratulated by his fellow Sertomans Dale Boldt (left) and Rick

BAXTER — Baxter resident Gary Walters — known in the lakes area for his “wacky adventures” that have all been done in the name of Kinship Partners — got his own surprise Wednesday.

Walters, 47, was named the 2012 Brainerd Outstanding Citizen of the Year during the noon Sertoma meeting at Bonanza Steakhouse in Baxter. Walters will be honored at the Distinguished Service Award Banquet planned Nov. 13 at Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter.

When Nancy Cross of Brainerd Community Action told Walters that he was the Brainerd Outstanding Citizen of the Year he didn’t know what to say. Announcing the winner each year is always a surprise, and this year was no different. Cross had a surprise plan attack to talk to the room full of Sertomans about what defines a person and then to ask for a volunteer, which would be Walters, who was sitting in the back of the room to come up to the podium. Walters had no clue what was going on.

John Raboin, a friend of Walters, was sitting next to him when Cross began her presentation.

“He wasn’t paying any attention to what she was saying,” said Raboin. “I kept telling him to (be quiet).”

From where Walters was sitting, Walters said you cannot hear anything. He said he was wondering why Cross was talking about “what defines a person.” Walters said when Cross asked him to come up to the podium he was like “Oh great.”

“I had no clue what was going on until I saw my wife come in,” said Walters. “Then I was like oh my God. Nancy is not asking for any Fourth Of July money so something definitely is going on.”

Cross talked about what defines Walters, which includes his passion for youth and Kinship Partners. For the past 10 years Walters has participated in different adventures to help raise funds and awareness of Kinship Partners. His adventures have included biking from Baxter to New Orleans, camping out for more than a week on top of Brainerd’s historic water tower, walking the length of Minnesota in 17 days, swimming across Lake Mille Lacs, losing 100 pounds in a year, unicycling around the track at Adamson Field and in-line skated from Brainerd to Washington, D.C. This year he completed in a marathon and rode 15 hours covering 200 miles from Baxter to Bemidji and back in a single day.

Walters told the group that he and Raboin have already discussed next year’s adventure.

“I’m probably going to die from this one,” Walters said with a laugh.

Walters looks forward to doing more adventures for Kinship Partners for the next 20 years. Walters said he gets so much more out of life by doing the adventures for Kinship Partners. He said youths and Kinship are not the only ones who benefit.

“There are so many people in this room who do so much more than I do,” said Walters. “You can’t do anything without people around you. There are people who do so much behind the scenes who are wonderful .... (these adventures) are fun.”

Walters was nominated by 14 community members for the award.

David Downing, Kinship Partners executive director, in his nomination letter, said “In the Brainerd lakes area when you heard the name Gary Walters the thought that comes to most people’s mind is crazy stunts. And in many ways I would agree. But witnessing Gary’s wacky adventures the past seven years I have a different perspective. Gary is passionate.”

Cheryal Lee Hills, Region 5 executive director, who has worked with Walters through the board wrote, “The service Gary delivers comes from an inherent desire to do more than what is expected. To push himself to be the very best human being he can be in all aspects of his life.”

Jeff Fitch, president of the noon Sertoma Club, in his letter said that Walters earned the Good Enthusiastic Member award during his first year with the club in 1996. He was president in 2002 and the 2003 Sertoman of the Year.

“Gary is a generous man of honor and integrity,” said Fitch. “He uses his talents to improve the quality of life for all of us in Sertoma and in the Brainerd lakes area. He is well known for his generous volunteer efforts.

Miranda Anderson, a Kinship Partner, said in her nomination letter, “Gary understands the need that many kids in our community have for another model and mentor in their life. Time and care can change a child’s life. It can change our community. Gary not only makes it his personal mission to make this change happen, but he engages others.”

Walters and his wife, Lisa, will celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary Friday. They have four children: Reggie, 22, Cassie, 21, Jackson, 18 and Jessica, 17. Lisa, Jessica and Walters’ parents Marlene and Gerald Walters attended the award presentation.

The Citizen of the Year is chosen by a selection committee made up of past Citizens of the Year and representatives from the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, the Crow Wing County volunteer coordinator, financial institutions, clergy, businesses, labor and Community Action board members. The general criteria for the award is that the nominee volunteer services are above and beyond normal employment or business pursuits and the services performed contributed to the welfare of the Brainerd/Baxter trade area.

Past award winners are: Elmer Johnson (1974), Marvin Campbell (1975), George Bedard (1976), Mildred Michaelis (1977), Herb Kessler (1978), Lucille Shaw (1979), Walter Doran (1980), Ray Bang (1981), Jack Echternacht (1982), Pete Humphrey (1983), Ray Madison (1984), Birney Wilkens (1985), Jack Ruttger (1986), Bob Gross (1987), Marv Nutting (1988), Sara Dunlap (1989), Tom Isle (1990), Dick Endres (1991), Bill Van Essen (1992), Hanspeter Borgwarth (1993), Jon Haapajoki (1994), Arnie Johnson (1995), Sister Vivian Arts (1996), Warren Williams (1997), Ruth Gmeinder (1998), Kevin Thesing (1999); Terry McCollough (2000); Bonnie Cumberland (2001), Paul Bloom (2002), Reed Campbell (2003), Steve Esser (2004), Dutch and Irma Cragun (2005), Tom Kotula (2006), Karen Owen (2007), Chip Borkenhagen (2008) and Casey Stengel (2009). There were no winners named in 2010-11.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at