Ward Budweg has helped build a library in Rwanda, install a clean-water-catching system in Panama, and paint an orphanage in Peru.
But perhaps no place has benefited more from his unrelenting service ethic than Decorah, Iowa, his home of more than 30 years.
“Pay it forward or give it back – it makes no difference,” says Ward, a local carpenter, handyman, and self-described “helper.” “I just know that without the assistance I received from people in the past, I would not be in a position help others today.”
Today this New Hampton, Iowa, native volunteers as council president of Decorah Lutheran Church and a board member of the Decorah Rotary Club, an organization he has also served as treasurer, vice president, and – you guessed it! – president since becoming a member in 1984. He’s also served on the local Elks Club board, completed terms on local tourism and parks and recreation boards, volunteered as director of the annual Nordic Fest Elveløpet race (during its infancy in the mid-1980s), and helped get the Decorah Rotary Club’s Loop de Loop race – which just marked four years in September – up and, yes, running.
It’s no coincidence that much of Ward’s volunteerism through the years – from chairing meetings to picking up garbage along Highway 9 – has been intertwined with the work of the local Rotary chapter.
Indeed, were it not for the generosity of the New Hampton Rotary Club years ago, says Ward, there’s a very good chance he would never have earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Northern Iowa in 1980.
“They loaned me $1,000 to finish my degree, and I never had to fill out a single piece of paperwork because they trusted me to pay it back,” he recalls. “I repaid that thousand dollars years ago, but I will never be able to repay the kindness, generosity, and belief in me those Rotarians showed. That is what continues to motivate me to give back whenever – and however – I can.”– by Sara Friedl-Putnam
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If you blink, you might find that Lanesboro Community Theater dynamo, Bebe Keith, has disappeared. When the Community Theater’s Silent Movies in the Park After Dark or the “Over the Back Fence” variety show are in production, she’s everywhere at once. Don’t worry, though, she’ll turn up soon, maybe in costume – the veteran actor played Mary Poppins in summer 2015 – but more often with script or cell phone in hand, as a director or plain old worker bee.
“I just love performing,” says the former kindergarten and first grade teacher and 25-year veteran actor. She and husband Pete moved from the Twin Cities to Lanesboro in 2006, when Bebe started working full-time as a glass mosaic artist and author. Her work has been commissioned by the Mayo Clinic, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Children’s Hospital in Boston.
“My schedule now is a little more flexible, working as an artist,” she says – the better to get on the horn and throw together two original skits, for example, when a guest artist for “Over the Back Fence” cancels at the last minute. She’s one of nine local volunteers who organize the monthly live radio show, and is also the host of the regional PBS/KSMQ arts and culture show “Off 90.”
Plus, Bebe has moved into mentoring local rookie directors, both for the annual downtown Lanesboro silent films exhibition in September, and the 2016 winter production of six short plays by David Ives. The dozens of hours volunteering to plan for, fund-raise, paint sets, or cue staging for each project don’t even cross her mind, she says.
“It’s my way of having fun, letting go, and socializing with people across my community, all mixed in one. I feel so happy participating – and seeing so many other people participating for the first time, whether they’re in the audience or behind the camera,” she says. “Yes, it takes time and work, but a feel-good activity that everyone enjoys? Totally worth it.”– by Kristine Jepsen
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“I’m just a banker with a passion for renewable energy,” Larry Grimstad says, in typical humble fashion.
In truth, the longtime Decorah resident is much more than that. He’s a highly respected community leader who has spent well more than a decade working to reduce his carbon footprint on the world and educate others on the importance of doing the same.
“We need renewable energy – wind, solar, and geothermal – and some of us have just got to take the initiative so others will come along,” he told the Des Moines Register in 2012 when asked about his efforts to promote environmental sustainability in Winneshiek County.
Larry, who served as president of Decorah Bank and Trust from 1978 to 2002, put those words into action three years ago when, through his company Decorah Solar Field, he partnered financially with Luther College to erect a $1.2 million array of 1,250 solar panels along Pole Line Road on the north edge of the college’s campus. The eye-catching array provides the bulk of the electricity used by Baker Village, a student-housing cluster that also uses clean energy (geothermal) for heating and cooling.
“I spent my career as a community banker so it’s a natural thing to figure out ways to help build good things for the community,” he says of investing in the array. “The more of that you do, the more you to want to do even more.”
Not surprisingly, Larry is just as generous with his time. He currently serves as board treasurer of four organizations – First Lutheran Church, Seed Savers Exchange, the Oneota Film Festival, and the Winneshiek Energy District – while also participating in events like the recent Decorah Energy Extravaganza that help educate the community about the myriad benefits of clean energy. The event showcased 10 solar-powered homes, including the one he built with his wife, Diane, in the early 2000s.
“It’s my responsibility to my grandchildren,” he replies when asked what drives his seemingly tireless efforts to leave this place in better shape than when he found it. “I have to do what is right for them and their generation.”
– by Sara Friedl-Putnam
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