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Willmar Area Chamber to honor community leaders with three awards in February

Lynn Johnson shows off her 2007 Exemplary Leadership Award from the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

When Lynn Johnson eventually retires, she will make room in her home for two prized possessions currently displayed in her Ridgewater College office: her Boston Marathon medal, and her Exemplary Leadership Award from the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s the biggest honor I’ve ever received,” Johnson says of the Chamber award, which she won in 2007. “The honor of winning that award will always be part of my life. Even today, I continue to think about how I can be worthy of receiving that award.”

Johnson, the director of nursing at Ridgewater, won the award for her leadership on a multi-year grant that facilitated new programs in the college’s nursing department, including state-of-the-art simulation centers at both the Willmar and Hutchinson campuses.

“Just to be recognized for the work my staff and I do meant so much,” Johnson said. “It reinforces what you’re doing. When you get an award, it keeps you going and you don’t take it for granted.”

This year, the Willmar Area Chamber will be bringing back the Exemplary Leadership Award, as well as the Emerging Young Leader Award and the “MILO” Award, named after a longtime Chamber volunteer. The Chamber has not given out these awards since 2008 and felt it was time to reintroduce them to the community.

“This is an opportune time for these awards,” said Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Area Chamber. “We don’t take enough time to celebrate successes and recognize the good things that people do in this community. We don’t take the time to say, ‘we did good today,’ and we should.”

The Emerging Young Leader Award will go to an individual 40 years old or younger who demonstrates leadership that benefits the community and its citizens. The Exemplary Leadership Award will honor a male, female or business that has made contributions to their profession and inspires others to be leaders as well. Lastly, the MILO Award will go to a local business leader over age 40 who make volunteerism, community leadership and involvement, and dedication to the Chamber a priority.

The Chamber is now seeking nominations for each of the three awards, Warner said. The Chamber will honor the three winners at its annual luncheon on Feb. 7 at the Willmar Conference Center, held in conjunction with neXt, the Chamber’s affiliate young professional organization.

Jay Halliday, chair elect of neXt and regional account manager at Nova-Tech Engineering, believes that recognizing young professionals for their community involvement and volunteerism will motivate those individuals to keep moving forward and encourage other young people to make a contribution as well.

“You don’t have to wait until you’re older to decide to make a difference in your community,” Halliday said. “If we can get our 20 to 40s involved, then we have an opportunity to steer the future. We’re not just receiving it. We become a part of molding and creating it.”

In 2005, Bob Mathiasen won the Emerging Young Leader Award at age 35 while the president at Wells Fargo Bank in Willmar. At the time, he was also actively involved as a Chamber Board member, chair of Junior Achievement and a committee member for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

“It never occurred to me that I was too young to be involved,” said Mathiasen, now the chief banking officer at Heritage Bank. “I recognized early that being involved would have benefits and that I could make an impact.”

Today, Mathiasen continues to be actively involved with the community, now as a member of the Willmar Planning Commission, a Chamber committee and the Eagle Creek Board. He doesn’t volunteer because he won an award nine years ago — but receiving that recognition did, at times, motivate him to keep going, he said.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t have continued to be involved without this award,” Mathiasen said. “I’ve never needed the recognition. But it’s nice to know that others appreciate your effort. It makes you want to do more.”

That kind of “do-more” attitude is what the Chamber hopes these awards will inspire among business professionals in the Willmar Lakes Area.

Bringing back these awards will also give the greater community a chance to recognize those people who often work behind the scenes to improve the Willmar area, Johnson said.

“There are leaders in this community that you never read or hear about,” she said. “There are people out there doing this work because they believe in it and because they genuinely want to make this community a better place. We need those people, and we need to recognize the positive work they’re doing.”

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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