PAYNESVILLE - Linda Westvig and Barb LeClaire of the Paynesville Dairy Queen are aiming for the top this year.
Last year, the seasonal drive-in raised more than $13,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network, second place among all the Dairy Queens in the state and the top fundraiser among the seasonal restaurants.
That wasn’t enough for them. This year they want to beat all the year-round restaurants, too. In Minnesota, the money raised by the network goes to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul.
The Paynesville Dairy Queen’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Family Fun Night, will run from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday on the parking lot and lawn at the restaurant. Their annual yard sale will be Friday and Saturday, also at the restaurant.
Westvig, who owns the drive-in, and LeClaire, the manager, said last week that the fundraiser is a labor of love for both of them. Both have had children who were hospitalized when young, and they want to help other families with similar circumstances.
More than 1,500 families in Stearns and Kandiyohi counties use the services of Gillette, LeClaire said. “A lot of them don’t have insurance; insurance is hard to come by,” she added.
“We’ve been there,” Westvig said. “To me it’s payback for all the years (her late daughter Rebecca) spent at Gillette.”
The two spend a lot of time working on the restaurant’s fundraising efforts. Westvig said she always has an eye out for a good deal for prizes. In Arizona last winter, she found teddy bears on sale after Valentine’s Day. A few days later, LeClaire received a “huge box” filled with the bears.
Some have been given away at various events, and the rest are going to the kids at Gillette.
The Family Fun Night includes children’s carnival games, a DJ and karaoke, door prizes, a silent auction and food on the grill.
New this year will be a dunk tank and a mobile unit from AirMaxx Trampoline in St. Cloud.
Many of the carnival games have been built by LeClaire’s husband and have Dairy Queen themes. They include a fishing pond, a Waffle Bowl bowling game and others. They plan a new game with an Orange Julius theme. They also use a Curly cone costume from Dairy Queen and have a mini blizzard costume they’ve made themselves.
Another addition this year will be Andy the Armadillo from the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in St. Cloud.
LeClaire said she asked for a donation for the silent auction, and the restaurant asked to be more involved, sending its mascot and prizes for kids.
LeClaire spends much of her time visiting businesses around the area for donations for the silent auction. She said there’s a good selection of gift cards, merchandise and toys. Sometimes they are their own best customers.
“Already, there’s a few things I know I’m bidding on,” Westvig said. They and their families usually go home with items from the silent auction.
Westvig and her husband Bob bought the Dairy Queen in 1972. When he died five years ago, LeClaire became the manager. “Without her, I might have sold it,” Westvig said.
With the help of LeClaire and her family, the drive-in’s fundraising efforts have increased, too.
The fundraising efforts started in 1990 when Dairy Queen challenged its restaurants to support the Children’s Miracle Network.
The Paynesville Dairy Queen came up with contests for Little Miss Dairy Queen and Dennis the Menace lookalikes. When Dennis’s creator ended his affiliation with Dairy Queen, they switched to choosing a Little Mr. Dairy Queen.
The kids in the contest ride on the business’s parade float. Some of them have worked at the restaurant when they’ve gotten older.
More recently, Family Fun Night was added. The night is their biggest fundraiser of the year, and the silent auction alone raises an average of $3,500 each year.
Other fundraisers include the yard sale with 25-cent and $1 areas. They have a monthly Car and Bike night. In July, they had 29 collector cars on hand but not many motorcycles. They are hoping the motorcycle side of the night takes off in the future. Customers vote on their favorite vehicle each month.
Westvig said they try to beat the previous year’s fundraising total every year, which they can usually do, but even that’s not enough for them. “Our goal is to be the top in Minnesota, and we were second.”