To put it lightly, 2020 was a lot of things, but for local communities — particularly Brainerd — it also represented a changing of the guard for vital, if often unheralded leadership positions.
Maybe it was the symmetrical, numerically even aspect of the number itself — 2020 — that put a nice coda for respective careers, or maybe it was because 2020 marked the beginning of a new decade and a season of change. At any rate, this was a year when many movers and shakers left positions of responsibility they’d occupied for years or decades at a time. The face of the Brainerd lakes area is a different one than it was in 2019.
These names include Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk, Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston, Brainerd Parks and Recreation Director Tony Sailer, Brainerd School Board members Sue Kern and Reed Campbell, Brainerd High School Resource Officer Troy Schreifels, Capt. Joe Meyer of the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, and Baxter City Council member Todd Holman, among others.
Sporting more than 40 years as a prominent businessman and figure in the Brainerd community, Menk — who stepped in after longtime Mayor James Wallin died in 2015 — announced Feb. 18 he would be retiring from his public role to spend more time with family and continue operating his business, E. L. Menk Jewelers in the historic downtown area.
“It has been my pleasure to have served on various commissions, authorities and other city sponsored entities in the city of Brainerd since 1987,” Menk said during the Feb. 18 council meeting where he notified members he was leaving in March. “As a wise person once said, ‘There are only so many minutes in an hour, so many hours in a day, so many days in a month, so many months in a year and only so many years in a lifetime.’”
Another Brainerd official, McQuiston, also announced he would step down from his role and retire after a decade as chief and 24 years in the department.
“I am very grateful for the opportunities that the city of Brainerd and the community have given me during my 24 years with the Police Department. I’m extremely proud of the men and women that work at the police department and consider myself blessed to have worked with them,” McQuiston relayed to the council in a letter. “To continue to deliver excellent comprehensive police services to our community, the timing is right for new leadership to bring a fresh perspective to the challenges with hiring, retention and potential police reform that lie ahead.”
Less visible, but also instrumental as a caretaker of the city’s natural environs and public parks, Sailer threw in the towel after 21 years.
“The credit goes to my staff,” he said in a Dec. 19 article. “I might have been calling the signals, but it goes to my staff.”
At the Brainerd School Board, two members left after years of service which included the hectic 2018 referendum year — the first, Campbell, after more than 17 years of steady leadership; the second, Kern, who lost an election bid after an eight-year tenure that made controversial headlines across the region, the state, and the nation on more than one occasion.
“What a wonderful team that we have and I'm' proud of us all,” Campbell said during a virtual meeting Dec. 16. “I say goodbye, but I will always bleed Warrior blue and cherish these memories. God bless.”
“Thank you, to all of you, for the privilege and the opportunity to be a part of the district and a part of the board to serve for these eight years,” Kern said during a virtual meeting Dec. 16. “It’s been fun. It’s been challenging. Thank you for your patience and your counsel.”
Schreifels’ indelible impact in the Brainerd High School halls cannot be overstated, as the towering police officer was widely beloved by the student body and regarded on more than one occasion as the institution’s most effective mental health resource for its adolescent learners. Schreifels first took on the responsibility in 2008, but his career in law enforcement stretched on for nearly 30 years when he finally turned in his badge on Aug. 6.
“At the time, when the school resource officer position came up, I was a little hesitant. ... You're dealing with ninth through 12th graders, about 2,000 kids and their parents, and to be honest with you, I really didn't know how (things would work out),” Schreifels stated in a July 26 article. “But it turns out, I'll be very honest with you in the most sincere and genuine way possible, this was the best decision I've ever made. One of the best decisions I’ve made personally and for sure, professionally.”
Another prominent figure in local law enforcement, Meyer, native of Staples, walks away after 30 years in that capacity. He credited his career to his father, Orville, who spent 30 years as a game warden and inspired a similar passion in his son.
“Initially, my dream was to be a game warden,” Meyer said in a Dec. 17 article. “But as I went through training and started trying to get a job after graduating from the law enforcement program my shift went to law enforcement.”
Holman first moved to Baxter in 1999. He served as a member and vice-mayor for 13 years — a period of extraordinary growth, as well as daunting challenges for the city as it experienced rapid expansion and the 2008 Great Recession during those years.
“It has been my honor and privilege to work with you, this council, and many council members that I've had the opportunity to work with,” said Holman, who took a moment to commend the city’s staffers and department employees during his final comments on Dec. 17. “This has been a great city to live in with my wife and I. It’s just so welcoming and engaging and I just couldn't say enough good about this community to live and raise a family.”