Brainerd's Outstanding Citizen of the Year goes to literacy lover

From reading to children to making doughnuts for the senior center to volunteering for Camp Benedict, Sheila DeChantel said she loves the community and helping others.

Sheila DeChantel, is surprised Wednesday, Oct. 21, with the Brainerd Community Action's Outstanding Citizen of the Year award during a meeting at 3 Cheers Hospitality in the Northern Pacific Center. DeChantel was given the award for her many hours of volunteer work in the community. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Shocked, surprised and humbled.

These were a few of the words Sheila DeChantel managed Wednesday, Oct. 21, as she teared up after she was named Brainerd’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

DeChantel was surprised by a group led by Brainerd Jaycees’ member Brianna McKibbens and Brainerd Community Action director Dave Badeaux, who interrupted her morning meeting at 3 Cheers Hospitality in the NP Center in Brainerd, where she is the promotions director.

“Oh my God,” DeChantel said in front of colleagues, friends and family who were present when Badeaux approached her with a plaque and said, “We are proud to award you with the Citizen of the Year award,” as McKibbens, the 2020 chairperson of the Distinguished Service Awards, handed her a bouquet of flowers and balloons.

“This really is a true honor and this is the 22nd year we’ve been doing this and we couldn’t be happier with our selection,” Badeaux said.


The Brainerd Jaycees and Brainerd Community Action partner each year to honor individuals in the community. Derived from the Ten Outstanding Young Americans program, and the long history of Brainerd Community Action’s Citizen of the Year, the Distinguished Service Awards typically honors yearly awards for Outstanding Citizen of the Year; Outstanding Community Service Provider of the Year; Outstanding Nonprofit of the Year; Outstanding Young Citizen of the Year; Outstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year; Outstanding Educator of the Year; and Outstanding Agribusiness of the Year.

The organizations traditionally host the Distinguished Service Banquet honoring all the recipients but due to COVID-19 there will be no banquet this year.

The criteria for the Outstanding Citizen of the Year award includes the person must be living; have done volunteer services that are above and beyond normal employment or business pursuits; have done services that contributed to the welfare of the community and were performed for an extended period of time. Last year’s recipient was Glen Gustafson, who founded the Brainerd Sports Boosters club and served on the board since 1982.

DeChantel said when her morning meeting was interrupted, she wasn’t sure what was going on and thought that it was somebody’s birthday.

“2020, what a crazy year and this (honor) just adds to it. That’s amazing, I had no idea at all,” she said of when she realized she was being honored with Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

DeChantel is involved with many things in the community, including as president of the Friends of the Brainerd Library.

“Literacy has always been in my heart,” she said. “Making sure everyone has access to books supporting kids’ literacy programming.”

DeChantel organized a project titled “Community Reading Project” this spring during the coronavirus pandemic as the Brainerd Public Library had to close down, with several people in the community reading books online to children. The project won the Brainerd library group a Evy Award for 2020 for best project by a Friends of the Library group in Minnesota. The library group was given $1,000 to use to continue the project.


DeChantel also is vice president of Camp Benedict in Manhattan Beach for people who have been affected or infected with HIV/Aids. She also volunteers at The Center and helps make the famous Thursday morning doughnuts.

“I love our community and love being a part of connecting people,” DeChantel said. “I’m so extremely honored to receive this award, I don’t know what else to say.”

Nomination letters:

Amy Price wrote: “I’ve known Sheila for over 20 years and she is always coming up with great ideas for events that benefit nonprofits and the Brainerd community. Her enthusiasm and energy to make an event happen is amazing and her commitment to these events and the time volunteered is staggering. Some people come up with ideas and never implement them ... not Sheila. She’s a master planner, is super creative and makes that idea/event a reality. Sheila is employed at Three Cheers Hospitality as their marketing director and excels in that position.

Sheila’s fun personality and willingness to work hard bringing entertaining and interesting events to Brainerd is why she should be Citizen of the Year. Not only is she raising funds for worthwhile nonprofits, but she’s doing it in a way that people enjoy and can’t wait to attend. The community has benefited from her creativity, hard work and willingness to give her time at these events, which in turn brings funds to The Center, The Brainerd Library and Camp Benedict.”

Kevin Thesing wrote: “I would like to add my heartfelt support to the nomination of Sheila DeChantal for Citizen of the Year. Sheila sees opportunity where others see obstacles. Sheila sees hope where there is need. Sheila says this is how, where others say it cannot be done. Sheila wears a smile and Oh My it is such a smile, no matter how difficult the task.

“It has been my pleasure, at Lakes Printing, to see all the non-profits and projects that Sheila is involved with. I was amazed at the tireless work that Sheila did this year, the year of COVID shutdown, in making Quarantingo possible for all of us. A fun break for the players and revenue for businesses. It would not have happened if Sheila had not put on her smile and made it happen. We are a better community because Sheila DeChantal calls the Brainerd Lakes Area her home.”

Others honored Wednesday:

Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston was named Outstanding Community Service Provider of the Year. McQuiston, who has been a member of the police department since 1996, was nominated by all the Brainerd department heads. In the city’s nomination letter, it stated: “In his position as Police Chief, he leads his department in a highly professional and ethical way and he stands out as a Police Chief that goes above and beyond for our city, the community and the law enforcement community.”


McQuiston also dedicated many hours to outside organizations, including beyond the Yellow Ribbon Committee, Hope Housing Advisory Board and Lakes Area Restorative Justice program.

Carrying a plaque and a bouquet of flowers Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston walks in the training room of the Brainerd Fire Department Wednesday, Oct. 21, under the pretense of a COVID meeting after being named the Outstanding Service Provider of the Year. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Interfaith Volunteers was named Outstanding Nonprofit of the Year. Interfaith Volunteers is a nonprofit organization that helps seniors and persons with disabilities live comfortable, safe, independent lives in their own home. Interfaith Volunteers fulfills this mission in a variety of ways but primarily by deploying volunteers to assist senior citizens with building wheelchair ramps and minor home modifications, providing rides for medical appointments and errands, and making companionship visits, it stated on its website. Interfaith was nominated because of their large spectrum of services that they offer which include constructing wheel ramps, other handicap access, minor home repairs, occasional housekeeping, providing transportation and companionship.

Toni Bieser, Outstanding Young Citizen of the Year. Bieser was nominated because she is constantly volunteering and giving her time back to the community. She is a wife, mother of three and works full time as a partner at Hy-Tec Construction in Brainerd and she still finds more time than most anyone to volunteer in multiple organizations like the Jaycees, a nominate letter stated. She is both an active mentor and role-model for both youths and young citizens for our community.

Toni Bieser, accountant and owner of Hy-Tec Construction smiles as she receives the Outstanding Young Citizen of the Year award at Hy-Tec Construction in Brainerd. Bieser was given the award for her many hours of volunteer service to her community. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Harley Ellis was named Monday as Outstanding Senior Volunteer of the Year and three more awards will be delivered Thursday, Oct. 22, for a youth, educator and an agriculture business person.


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