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Curiosity paves path for Hunts' legacy of innovation and giving. Brainerd Lakes Chamber celebrates CRMC and Jack Pine Brewery

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Paul and Lynn Hunt accept the Business Legacy Award presented at the seventh annual Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Excellence dinner Thursday, Nov. 15, at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video2 / 4
Cuyuna Regional Medical Center CEO Kyle Bauer (right) speaks on stage with other CRMC employees Thursday, Nov. 15, as CRMC was presented the Business Excellence Award during the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Excellence dinner at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video3 / 4
Patrick Sundberg and wife Sara Sundberg of Jack Pine Brewery accept the Small Business of the Year Award Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Excellence dinner at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video4 / 4

Paul and Lynn Hunt have been making a difference in the lakes area for decades as innovators, investors, employers, volunteers and philanthropists.

They've provided a look at how things could be for better living and worked to bring those visions into reality. They turned their self-described insatiable curiosity about the world and a desire to help others, wrapped in an unending interest in finding not only how and why things work but how they can work better. Their curiosity, the Hunts stated, is their biggest asset.

Their efforts were recognized with the Business Legacy Award, presented at the seventh annual Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Excellence dinner. The event Thursday, Nov. 15, drew about 600 people to Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. The Hunts received a standing ovation upon being recognized.

When the Hunts left a good paying job to take a risk and step out on their own to design things for telephone companies and local manufacturers, they did so in faith.

Paul and Lynn Hunt founded Hunt Technologies in 1985. They note they were willing to give up that regular paycheck to start their own venture. It meant years of living on little income, but they were equipped with two necessary ingredients—belief and persistence.

Their entrepreneurial story started appropriately in the basement in their Brainerd home. They grew from two employees to include a business they designed that housed more than 180 employees. Their company launched the first power line carrier-based automatic meter reading system to be broadly used by electric utilities in 1994. The automated meter reading device, which sent data over established electrical wires, was dubbed The Turtle. When the Hunts started they noted the vast majority of electric meters were read by residents in rural areas or by meter readers in cities who went house to house.

The work that began in their home in Brainerd moved into a large facility in Pequot Lakes. Lynn Hunt designed the 47,000-square-foot facility with no fixed walls, a lot of natural light, plenty of plants and trees growing inside, its own cafeteria and several areas where employees could find space for themselves.

The Hunts sold the business in 2001 and put their investment, time and talents into two new ventures. Their current efforts include a for-profit firm based on resilient-living research, Hunt Utilities Group; and a nonprofit, Happy Dancing Turtle, based on education and promoting sustainable living in a campus setting in Pine River. All the campus buildings serve as real-time experiments as concepts take physical form and research data is accumulated on practical ways to live as energy-free as possible.

In a video presentation about the Hunts shown at the event, Bob McLean, Happy Dancing Turtle executive director, said the Hunts are the stewards of the talents they've been given and they use those for the benefit of other people. He said their effort isn't for a plaque nor recognition, instead they work quietly to help people because they have the opportunity to make life better for others.

Paul and Lynn Hunt took to the stage to accept the award. Lynn Hunt said they were overwhelmed to have the things they've done considered worthy of the Legacy award.

"We ourselves have a legacy of our progenitors—our parents, our grandparents, our great-great-grandparents ... all of them have shown us what it takes to help others, to build businesses, to start over, to know you cannot do it alone, what it means to have faith," Lynn Hunt said. "No one can do anything of value alone."

The legacy they gained included taking risks to achieve something of value. Lynn Hunt said they had many helpers from family, employees, the community, the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. and the chambers. So many people helped along the way, she said she couldn't name them all—but thanked them all.

"What legacy have we handed down to this community?" she asked. "Well, we hope it is a little more resiliency. ... We wish everyone to be able to live more sustainable, more resilient lives. ... Resilience is a mindset of hope and optimism. When prepared you don't have fear. ... It is being honest and charitable in all of your dealings."

Resilient living is a set of tools, habits and lifestyles to help people handle good times and bad on many fronts, Lynn Hunt said, adding it also gives confidence. The Hunts' resilient living campus in Pine River focuses on energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gases, efficient building design and ways to help people use resources so they can live well during economic booms and busts.

The Brainerd Lakes Chamber and RiverWood Bank presented the award during the annual event that draws hundreds to Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake each fall. The chamber described the Hunts as an amazing couple who have achieved exceptional business success in their lifetime with the Legacy award designed to recognize their inspiring leadership that transcends business and leaves a legacy of community and economic vitality for generations to come. But the sustainable living campus is just one of the Hunts endeavors in the lakes area. The couple was nominated for "outstanding achievement in business development combined with an extraordinary commitment to community and philanthropy."

"With new ventures, they have continued to make an investment of time, talent and resources with their employees, the region, and many individuals who have received personal, educational and economic support," the chamber reported.

Believers in the power of volunteering and value of donating one's time, the Hunts have continued to do that themselves. Paul and Lynn Hunt were awarded with the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation Award in Philanthropy in 2013. In 2015, the Hunt family organized TEDxGullLake, based on the popular TED talks—Technology, Entertainment and Design—which were founded as a way to share ideas. The first TEDxGullLake theme was based on the art of resilience, focusing on ways to strengthen rural communities.

Past recipient of the Business Legacy Award are Stewart C. Mills Jr. (2016), and Arnold S. Johnson (2017).

For all three honorees at the event, a nomination/application process was announced in June with a mid-July deadline. A 10-member volunteer selection committee independently scored and discussed each applicant before choosing the recipients, the chamber reported.

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Cuyuna Regional Medical Center

A medical center with its roots deep in the red earth of the Cuyuna Range is now home to a state-of-the-art medical campus and employs more than 900 doctors, nurses, health care professionals and support staff.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center was recognized with the Business Excellence Award for its leadership, innovation, employee investment and community service. The Brainerd Dispatch sponsors the Business Excellence Award.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center was born in the 1950s when the health care provider for the range, Miner's Hospital, closed as the mining companies began leaving and taking their financial support for the hospital with them. Seventeen Cuyuna Range cities and townships worked together, raised funds and used a grassroots will to build a new district hospital in 1964. Now, a much larger Cuyuna Regional Medical Center serves about 30,000 people in the lakes area with its hospital in Crosby and clinics in Crosby, Baxter and Longville. Next spring, Cuyuna is opening a clinic in Breezy Point.

CEO Kyle Bauer, who joined the organization in 2004, noted it is unique as a small, rural hospital providing specialty services. Bauer said in the last 15 years, CRMC experienced robust growth and put nearly $80 million into construction in that time.

"We believe with incredibly engaged physicians and employees that allows us to create an organization that is just a powerhouse for creativity and innovation," Bauer said in a video segment.

Taking the stage with a host of CRMC representatives, Bauer joked they would test the stage's capacity. And on a day that was also his birthday, Bauer said CRMC was honored and proud to receive this recognition.

"This award belongs to our entire organization," he said. "Our employees are extremely passionate about helping people."

Bauer said patient experience is at the heart of health care. He thanked people who are entrusting their health and the health of their loved ones to CRMC. When Miners Hospital closed, Bauer said the citizens on the Cuyuna Range had a vision and worked diligently to keep a hospital in the community.

Bauer said CRMC's growth and development was nurtured from that same vision.

"Fifty years later we now serve pretty much every community in the Brainerd lakes area," Bauer said. "Our physicians, employees, volunteers and community partners continue that mission today. They constantly challenge themselves and us to ask the question, 'What do we do today to that will make us a little bit better than we were yesterday?'"

Bauer said CRMC is committed to providing quality health care.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center reports its staff is committed to delivering a wide range of high-quality services to build a proactive, high-tech, patient-centered medical community.

Past recipients of the Business Excellence Award include: Widseth Smith Nolting (2012), Crosswoods Golf (2013), Grand View Lodge (2014), Ultra Paws LLC (2015), Just for Kix (2016), and Consolidated Telecommunications Co. (2017).

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Jack Pine Brewery

Jack Pine Brewery is creating a new path, but that's not a new position for the business to be in.

For the first time, this year the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Cub Foods in Brainerd and Baxter presented the Lakes Proud Small Business of the Year Award and Jack Pine Brewery of Baxter is the first recipient.

At the event, Patrick Sundberg looked out at the crowd of 600 and said he didn't think his high school speech class had prepared him. After five years in business, Sundberg said he didn't expect to be at this point. He said his goal was to take his expensive hobby from his garage into something that would pay for itself. Jack Pine Brewery blazed the trail for breweries in the lakes area. Starting with a home brewery and used soda cans, Jack Pine then outgrew its first Baxter location to move to its own facility built in Baxter just off Highway 371, where they they are now producing their own beer in aluminum cans.

"None of this could happen without you," Sundberg said of the people who supported the brewery by drinking a beer at the taproom or in a local bar or restaurant. "It wouldn't have happened without you. Local breweries are very community supported," Sundberg said, telling the crowd they built this brand by choosing to support a local business.

With his wife Sara by his side on stage, Sundberg thanked his parents as the role models who inspired him to work hard and be creative. He thanked his in-laws for their encouragement, willingness to help and ability to serve as sounding boards.

"Sara, the love of my life, you've been my strongest supporter and also my most challenging critic, I thank you for that."

Sundberg thanked his wife for pushing him to do things he honestly didn't think he could do.

The chamber reported Jack Pine Brewery is a small business "that truly personifies the spirit of entrepreneurship, pride and success."

The new Lakes Proud Small Business of the Year Award honors a Brainerd Lakes Chamber business that employs up to 25 team members and has attributes of leadership, innovation, employee investment and community service.

"Just as the Jack Pine is one of the first trees to take root after a forest fire, Patrick and Sarah Sundberg's brewery was the first to be established in the Brainerd lakes area since prohibition," the chamber reported.

Notable achievements include:

• Beginning as a small startup began in 2012, Jack Pine Brewery sold 100 gallons at a time on College Drive in Baxter. Word of mouth helped fuel its growth.

• In the fall of 2016, Jack Pine Brewery broke ground on a new building, which opened the following spring with an upgraded taproom and increased production space, including the addition of an in-house canning line.

• The first production year yielded 234 barrels of beer, with one barrel equaling 31 gallons.

• Their continued growth has expanded their market share range from Walker to Hutchinson and production to 2,000 barrels this year.

"An eagerness to grow, a passion to impress, and a solid focus on quality and variety distinguish Jack Pine Brewery as a leader in craft beer in the Brainerd lakes area," the chamber reported.

The dinner drew a packed house to Cragun's with participants dressing for a classic Hollywood premiere event, complete with red carpet, live jazz, and photo op background with a sparkling cut-out of paparazzi.

In addition to the awards and dinner, the chamber's Leadership Experience Class of 2018 was presented and recognized. And the group remembered Jed Copham, Brainerd International Raceway owner who recently died in a boating mishap, in prayer.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct the amount of money -- to $80 million -- Cuyuna Regional Medical Center has invested in its facilities in the last 15 years. An earlier version of the story said $8 million. 

For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2Th0FxR.

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