Willmar Chamber honors three community leaders

From staff reports WILLMAR -- Three Willmar individuals will be honored during the third annual Business Awards Leadership Luncheon at noon today at the Willmar Conference Center. The event is sponsored by the West Central Tribune and the Willmar...

From staff reports

WILLMAR -- Three Willmar individuals will be honored during the third annual Business Awards Leadership Luncheon at noon today at the Willmar Conference Center. The event is sponsored by the West Central Tribune and the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

This year's BALL winners are:

n Jonathan Kreps of JD Kreps Financial Group. He will receive the Emerging Young Leader Award, which is given to an individual age 35 or younger who demonstrates leadership that benefits the community and its citizens.

n Russ Bennett of Bennett Office Technologies. He will receive the Milo Award, which is named after longtime Chamber volunteer Milo Halberg, who died in 2001. The award was established to recognize local business leaders who exemplify Halberg's volunteerism, community leadership and dedication to the Chamber. It is presented to a Chamber member who is 35 or older and who has provided leadership in the Chamber as well as other organizations.


n Lynn Johnson, director of nursing at Ridgewater College. She will receive the Exemplary Leadership Award. The award honors a woman or a man who has achieved recognition in her or his field and has made significant contributions to the profession and business organization of which she or he is a member.

Jonathan Kreps

The Emerging Young Leader Award honors the recipient for outstanding work with youth, adults and families to improve quality of life in the Willmar lakes area. Leadership qualities include creativity, volunteerism, responsibility, problem solving, respectfulness, cooperation and organizational skills. Leadership qualities are not limited to Chamber activities and may include work for other organizations.

Kreps has been involved on the Willmar Chamber Board, Chamber executive committee and membership committee; Willmar Lakes Area Young Professionals; Community Christian School Board; Sertoma Club; football coach for his two sons through the YMCA; and church usher. He was formerly involved with Willmar Fests.

Kreps was cited for his belief in growth, betterment and future of Willmar through supporting local business and giving back to organizations. He strives for growth and prosperity for children, grandchildren and future generations.

Kathy Schwantes, who nominated Kreps, said she appreciates his energy, wit, drive and ambition. She said her appreciation was reinforced during a Chamber-sponsored visit to the Capitol last year. "He adds a bit of excitement and fun wherever he goes,'' Schwantes said.

Kreps' wife, Leah, said she has the greatest respect for her husband and everything he gives of himself to Willmar and community organizations.

Russ Bennett


Bennett, the Milo Award recipient, was cited for 26 years of community involvement through financial contributions and many hours of volunteer service to guard and strengthen the business and family climate. Besides Bennett Office Technologies, Bennett owns ACE Cash Express, Subway Restaurants with three locations, and Picture Perfect Photography.

His business leadership began when he bought an office supply store in 1981. He turned what had been a retail store into the area's leading information technology provider. Bennett Office Technologies was the first to bring electric typewriters, ergonomic furniture, computer networking, Internet, high-speed wireless DSL Internet, convergence (IP Telephony, Voice over IP) and fiber redundancy to west central Minnesota.

Bennett's business involvement includes the Minnesota Chamber Board, the Willmar Chamber Board and serving as chair in 1990, Willmar Noon Lions, KCEDPI Rural Development Finance Authority Board, Lake Region Bank Board and Kandi Link.

His community involvement includes Calvary Lutheran Church Council member, Community Christian School Board, United Way financial supporter and corporate donations of Warm the Children and Imagination Library as gifts on behalf of customers.

Anna Gorres, who nominated Bennett, said volunteerism and community involvement are part of Bennett's life.

"His goal as an entrepreneur is to create as many well-paying jobs as he can, as a volunteer and Christian ... to create a better community for business and family,'' said Gorres. "Russ is a notable example of a civic leader.''

Lynn Johnson

The Exemplary Leadership Award, sponsored this year by Swenson Motor Company, is open to a man, woman or business that has demonstrated a successful and exemplary track record of leadership resulting in noteworthy accomplishments for the business or organization that the leader serves.


The recipient will have been successful in serving his or her profession in a manner that inspires others in the profession to recognize the person as a leader in the field.

Johnson was nominated by Colleen Thompson, who said the nursing program under Johnson is recognized as a model of excellence in Minnesota, the Midwest and the country. Johnson was appointed director of nursing at Ridgewater College (formerly Willmar Community College) in 1983.

In 1996, Johnson became director of nursing for the combined registered nursing, licensed practical nursing and nursing assistant programs when Willmar Community College, Willmar Technical College and Hutchinson Technical College merged to form Ridgewater College under the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Johnson is described as a futurist, always seeking to improve and enhance nursing education. She proposed that Ridgewater establish nursing simulation centers on both the Willmar and Hutchinson campuses. The centers became a reality and provide the latest educational training and tools.

At a time when the country faces nursing shortages, Johnson has exercised leadership in thrusting Ridgewater College's nursing program to new heights. Student nursing enrollment has increased dramatically and each year the college has significant waiting lists.

Besides professional accomplishments, Johnson has been involved in United Way Women United in Philanthropy Steering Committee, All-America City Task Force, Willmar Chamber, Winged Foot Running Club, Business and Professional Women's Club, charter member of the local PTSA, Vinje Lutheran Church Council and Sunday School teachers, Phi Beta Kappa, American Cancer Society Board and Willmar Community Arts Council.

Business Gives award honorees

The Willmar Lakes Area Business Gives program helps businesses and communities share, recognize and appreciate the contributions of businesses. Businesses demonstrate their effect on communities and motivate other businesses to start or strengthen their commitment.


The program, sponsored by the Willmar Chamber and coordinated by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, provides an opportunity to present a uniform and comprehensive picture of how businesses contribute to the quality of life in communities.

Businesses are recognized for giving cash or in-kind contributions, or both, amounting to 2 percent or more of pretax earnings to charitable organizations. The program is based on the Minnesota Keystone Program Standard criteria established in 1976 by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The 2007 participants are Affiliated Financial and Insurance Services; Baker Hospitalities; Bennett Office Technologies; Bremer Bank; Conway, Deuth and Schmiesing; Corneil-Elkjer Agency;

Cub Foods; Edward Jones Investments-Doug Kveene; Employment Plus; Family Practice; Heritage Bank N.A.; Home State Bank; Home Agency; JD Kreps Financial Group; Lake Region Bank; Lake Region Mortgage;

Northern States Supply; Print Masters of Willmar; Ruff and Company CPAs Inc.; Steve's Vac Shack; Swenson Leasing Company; Tires Plus of Willmar; Wells Fargo Bank; West Central Tribune; and Willmar Electric Service.

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