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Willmar's Safe Avenues to celebrate with its 5th annual gala next month

WILLMAR -- For Chuck and M'Liss Switzer of St. Paul, the physical violence in their marriage started on their honeymoon 48 years ago.

But after 18 years, he realized he needed to make a change. The couple sought help and ended the battering.

"Their goal was to stop the violence, not the marriage," said Connie Schmoll, director of Safe Avenues in Willmar. "They are a very rare couple."

Since seeking help 30 years ago, the Switzers have worked to educate law enforcement, clergy and many others about the issue of domestic abuse.

"Their life has revolved around this," Schmoll said. They have written a book, been featured in numerous national magazines. They have appeared on television talk shows, including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Larry King Live" and "60 Minutes."

The Switzers will bring their message to the fifth annual Safe Avenues gala April 8 at the Holiday Inn in Willmar.

The gala, "A Whole New World," raises money to benefit the programs of Safe Avenues, formerly called Shelter House. The nonprofit organization operates a women's shelter in Willmar and provides shelter and services for victims of domestic abuse. It also promotes safety and justice.

The Switzers' presentation will be a highlight of the evening, along with a gourmet dinner and live and silent auctions. Information will be available about Safe Avenues programs.

Schmoll said the Switzers are an unusual case, and their message is not about saving a marriage no matter what.

"Our message and their message is clearly that a victim must not stay if there is violence," she said. "They remain married and together today, but only because the abuser took responsibility for his violence and worked extremely hard to change his behaviors."

Melanie Eckhart will be the emcee for the evening, and Kristine Fladeboe-Duininck will be the auctioneer. Music will be provided by Heartstrings.

The live auction will include an iPad, a dinner for 10 on Green Lake with fresh seafood flown in from Alaska and a wine and chocolate package including a 5-pound chocolate bunny and a 5-liter bottle of red wine. Pottery crafted by Bill Gossman of New London will be auctioned, along with a Canadian fishing trip, Willmar Stingers season tickets and Minnesota Twins tickets.

The silent auction will offer more than 40 gift baskets donated by businesses or individuals.

They will include items like a bouquet of flowers every month for a year, a Kindle and carrying case, a date night package of dinner and theater, and a trip to a spa.

Registration deadline for the gala is Friday. Online registration is available at or call 320-235-0962. The cost of tickets is $50 per person. Those who are unable to attend may sponsor one or more seats so residents of the women's shelter may attend the gala.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340