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Two deserving seniors honored

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Les Franz of Brainerd and Brenda Johnson of Baxter didn’t see it coming prior to their arrival at The Center’s annual picnic Thursday at Lum Park in Brainerd.

Franz and Johnson were selected as the male and female honorees of the 2013 Outstanding Senior Citizen Award sponsored by The Minnesota State Fair, the Minnesota State Fair Foundation and the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs. Franz and Johnson will each represent Crow Wing County at the fair.

Johnson was nominated by Deb Anderson, Essential Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, RSVP and the Lakes Area Interfaith Caregivers. Franz was nominated by the Let’s Go Fishing board, Brainerd Area Noon Sertoma Club, Confidence Learning Center, Mary Harder and Karen Owen.

Johnson, 70, said Anderson asked her if she could help serve beans at the annual picnic at Lum Park and she said, “Sure.”

“That is what I always say when people ask me to help them with something, ‘Sure,’” said Johnson.

Johnson served the beans at the picnic and after everyone ate, someone asked for some more, so she gave them more. When she did the handle fell into the beans and she had to use her hand, with a plastic glove on, and grab the spoon.

“After I did that I felt sticky and I wanted to leave to wash up,” said Johnson. However, DeAnn Barry, The Center director, told her she had to stay. Barry announced the winners and their volunteer work in front of an audience of around 90 senior citizens.

“When she started naming some of my volunteer work I knew she was talking about me,” said Johnson. “And the tears came down and I was like ‘Oh no’ and looked at Deb (Anderson) and said ‘You did this.’ ... I was sobbing.”

Johnson has been on the St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Board for 12 years, Essentia Health Foundation Board for six years, has been a buyer for St. Joseph’s gift shop and has been on the RSVP Board since 2001-02. She also volunteers at her church, Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter.

Johnson, who was a secretary to the Brainerd School District superintendent for 14 years before she retired, said there are several other things she does to volunteer.

“I can’t say no,” she said with a laugh.

Franz, 77, has volunteered for the Let’s Go Fishing program for the past four years. Let’s Go Fishing was created to enrich the lives of people age 55 and older through free fishing and boating excursions that strengthen communities, build relationships and create memories.

“I love to see the smiles on people’s faces when they go fishing,” said Franz. “Whether they’re in a wheelchair or have crutches, they enjoy it. Some of them have never been out on a boat before. There is a lot of joy in their faces.”

Franz has been volunteering ever since he was a child. He said his father, who helped start Camp Jim, taught him about volunteerism. Franz has helped at Camp Jim in Pillager and Camp Shamineau in Motley and he has gone to China three times on mission trips to help with construction projects.

Franz is a lifetime member of the Brainerd Noon Sertoma, and he volunteers as a Swinging Sertoma at the Confidence Learning Center and his church, Lakeland Evangelical Free Church in Baxter.

Franz said the definition of a volunteer is seeing someone who has a need and someone helps to make them happy.

“I was totally surprised,” said Franz on the award. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight.”

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