Lee Seipp strode into Stonehouse Coffee in Nisswa Square knowing she was running a bit late to meet the city’s chamber president for coffee and a walk in the park.
She stopped short and put her hands to her face when she rounded the corner inside the coffee shop and faced a small group with cameras and flowers in hand.
A stunned and tearful Seipp soon learned she was the 2021 Nisswa Citizen of the Year when chamber President Pam Dorion made the announcement and gave Seipp flowers and a hug. Seipp had set up the early Friday morning, April 30, meeting with Dorion to walk through Nisswa Lake Park together.
"The idea of service started for me when I was in Brownies, then Girl Scouts. My mom was a leader. It’s as basic as air and water. It’s what we do. It’s part of life. You don’t expect to be recognized for it."
— Lee Seipp, 2021 Nisswa Citizen of the Year
Also present for the surprise were Shawn Hansen, a former chamber director who nominated Seipp for her commitment to the Nisswa community; Mike Foy, of Main Street Ale House; John Wallin, a former Nisswa Citizen of the Year as well as event photographer and videographer; and one of Seipp’s daughters and granddaughters, Lauren Johnson and daughter Andi, 6.
“Lee is just one of those people that Live and Breathe Nisswa,” Hansen wrote in her nomination letter. “If there is a way for her to help this little community, she is willing to step up and step in.”
Hansen, now the executive director of The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes in Nisswa, said as chamber director she never nominated anyone for the honor. She’s known Seipp for 22 years and believed she should be recognized for what she does for the community.
“I think the thing I like best about Lee is her heart is just generously good,” Hansen said at Stonehouse Coffee.
She later added: “When you look at the names of past citizens of the year, you realize how much those people have impacted this community. Their leadership and commitment to Nisswa have helped create the amazing ‘buzz’ about why Nisswa is such an incredible place to live. Lee Seipp is very deserving of this honor. She inspires those around her to be good citizens.”
Seipp, a Nisswa resident since moving here as a teen in the mid-1970s when her parents, Al and Jane Gunsbury, bought the Quarterdeck Resort on Gull Lake, said it’s strange to be recognized for something you just do - community service.
“We serve,” she said, noting you don’t expect recognition for that.
She and her husband, Terry, raised their children in Nisswa. At Stonehouse Coffee, Seipp squatted down to granddaughter Andi’s level to explain what was happening: “All it means is it’s really important to give back, and you’re really good at that.”
"Anything I’ve done, I’ve done in collaboration with many, many people who have a common goal."
— Lee Seipp
There’s no doubt a fourth generation is already learning the value of community service.
Johnson said people often tell her they know her mom. “I say, ‘From where? Who doesn’t (know her)?’” she said with a smile.
Hansen listed Seipp’s community involvement in her nomination: an active member of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Nisswa; an active member of the Nisswa Women of Today organization for many years, including work on the scholarship pageant and other club initiatives; an active member of the Nisswa Women’s Club, where Seipp’s mother is also active; and a chamber volunteer for many years.
Chamber activities included serving on the chamber board when her family owned the Quarterdeck Resort, and volunteering countless hours at the City of Lights, Freedom Days and Fall Festival events, as well as meeting various needs in the chamber office.
She is a Rotarian; a volunteer at The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes, a humanitarian food aid organization that packages meals; and she has served on city committees, including as a founding member of the Friends of Nisswa Lake Park.
Seipp was overwhelmed, honored and surprised upon hearing she was the Nisswa Citizen of the Year.
“The idea of service started for me when I was in Brownies, then Girl Scouts. My mom was a leader,” she said, adding she grew up knowing the importance of service. “It’s as basic as air and water. It’s what we do. It’s part of life. You don’t expect to be recognized for it.
“Anything I’ve done, I’ve done in collaboration with many, many people who have a common goal,” Seipp said. “I see my family as just one big extended family, and we all have the responsibility to each do our own small part.”
She said she’ll always be grateful for the experience of working in a family business in a great community that gave her family a lot of opportunities to learn, contribute and serve.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.