A friend to Willmar and its parks, Rachel Skretvedt urges others to serve their community
Rachel Skretvedt has enjoyed being involved in her community since she was a girl. Since moving to Willmar in 2010, Skretvedt has dedicated hundreds of hours to the Willmar park system, helping bring about not only the Robbins Island Destination Playground but also making the local option sales tax projects there a success.
WILLMAR — Chances are if there has been a major project at Willmar's Robbins Island Regional Park in the last decade, Rachel Skretvedt has probably been involved. She served on the Willmar Community Education and Recreation advisory board for many years and was a lead member of both the Destination Playground and local option sales tax project committees. It is all connected to her drive to serve her community.
"For me it is a sense of purpose, to give back," Skredtvedt said.
As a child in Crookston, Skretvedt would volunteer with her church, help with swim club fundraisers and take part in projects put on by the Leo Club at her school. She would also assist with projects her father, a banker with Bremer Bank and her mother, an elementary school teacher, were involved in. While doing those projects, such as helping sandbag during the 1997 floods, she saw the positive impact community service could have.
"That is what community service is. You are there for a common goal and working toward something together," Skretvedt said. "It all comes from working to provide services to others or your community."
Her volunteer work also provided personal benefits to Skretvedt. She learned through various projects and internships that public relations and mass communications would be a career path on which she could continue doing the type of work she loved. After earning a degree in advertising from Moorhead State, Skretvedt got her first job with the Grand Forks Parks District as its PR communications specialist.
"This is where my passion for parks came from," Skretvedt said.
It was a rebuilding time for Grand Forks, which needed to repair and restore some of its parks facilities after the 1997 flood. While working for Grand Forks, Skretvedt was able to see how a project can go from an idea to completion. She also learned how important a role good parks play in the overall health and happiness of a community. These are lessons she would eventually put into practice when she, her husband and young children moved to Willmar.
The family moved to Willmar in 2010, when Skretvedt's husband took a job as a family practice physician with ACMC, now CentraCare.
By 2014, at the urging of then-city administrator Charlene Stevens, Skretvedt was appointed to the WCER Advisory Board. While sitting on that board, Skretvedt was involved in several park-related issues — including a safety review of playground equipment, and the completion and approval of the master park plan. She said one of the most important things the board did was get the city council to increase the budget for the parks and be willing to approve improvement projects.
"To me that is fun — that is what you want to do, community service that brings joy," Skretvedt said. "It is a beautification project in my eyes."
Things really started moving when, in June 2016, Willmar businessman and state lawmaker Dave Baker approached the city about building a massive, fully accessible playground at Robbins Island.
At the same time Baker, approached Skretvedt to help lead the project, along with Kathy Schwantes. They headed a project that involved dozens of people, businesses and organizations, and was worth more than $1 million.
"It takes a large group of people to do what we did," Skretvedt said.
Within a year of Baker first talking about the project, Skretvedt and her team were celebrating the official ground opening of the Robbins Island Destination Playground. The funds for the playground came from private and business donations, and community members helped construct it over a nine-day period.
"We did more than just build a playground. We really built a community because of the connections you made," Skretvedt said. "It really united us as a community. We were all in this together."
Following the success of the Destination Playground, Skretvedt soon found herself involved in another major parks project — the Invest in Willmar Local Option Sales Tax project at Robbins Island. She already knew several people involved in the sales tax, and was quick to take on the newest challenge.
"The job wasn't done out there. They wanted more out there; you could see there was the desire," Skretvedt said. "We were very thankful the community said yes."
The 0.5% sales tax increase, which is to raise approximately $30 million over 13 years for six community projects, was approved in November 2018.
Robbins Island was budgeted for $3 million to complete even more improvements at the park. This included a new road, parking lots, lighting, waterline and several upgraded park shelters. The team working on the Robbins Island project were lucky they already had the park master plan to build upon and also took advantage of low bid prices to get all the pieces of the project completed.
"It all needed to be changed; it all needed to be done," Skretvedt said.
Overlapping some of the local option sales tax construction was the building of the four-season shelter, which was paid for in part by a Legacy Grant through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Yet again, Skretvedt was involved, helping with the planning stages of the project.
While it took a bit longer to get everything completed at the park due to funding constraints on the shelter — and the pandemic, labor shortages and supply chain issues for the sales tax project — Skretvedt is quite happy with the finished products.
"It is such a crown jewel," Skretvedt said of Robbins Island.
With the completion of the sales tax project, Skretvedt is looking for her next volunteering project. She has recently been named to her church's board and has been working part time with the YMCA, so she continues to serve her community in other ways. She is open to opportunities, whether it is helping with the parks or in other areas.
"I really have that urge to help," Skretvedt said. "When I see a need, I want to be able to provide."
As someone who has seen and experienced the benefits of volunteering and serving the community, Skretvedt urges others to do the same.
"You become more aware of your community needs when you step into that first volunteer program," Skretvedt said.
She also hopes that her three children and other young people will also find ways to serve their communities. Being a good role model for the next generations is another reason why Skretvedt believes being a volunteer is so important.
"We need to think about our future and get kids interested, because that is the only way communities can survive, if you have the next generation working to do it," Skretvedt said. "You want them to see anything they do can have a positive impact."