Some were written in a flowing script, others neatly printed on formal cards. Still others were done on construction paper using crayon or markers with an uncertain hand.
“Dear Mr. Andreas,” most began. “Thank you for….”
And so it went. In note after note after note, and on page after page of the scrapbook — more than an inch thick — there was heartfelt gratitude, all thank yous to Faribault’s Pat Andreas for helping provide for their class, school or organization, including PTOs, Parks and Rec, and more.
The scrapbook, created by Andreas’ mother, Barb Andreas, with some help from Cindy Shirkey, an insurance rep in Andreas’ Farmers Insurance office, was a tangible sign of the difference Andreas has made in his community. So was the Hidden Gem award given Aug. 17 to Andreas, an honor bestowed by The Virtues Project-Faribault to those in the area who have made the community a better place but who have scant recognition for their efforts.
Andreas has donated to a number of organizations and Faribault schools for years, beginning with a Farmers Insurance program that matched donations to area schools. But when that program ended, Andreas kept giving. Today, he donates $100 to each Faribault Public school every month, and asks teacher to select what they’d like him to purchase with the money.
When the program began, Andreas said last week. he expected he’d be buying cases of folders, notebooks and pens. But instead he’s purchased items like specialized seating that can be moved to fit a space and number of students, and some for active kids who find sitting still a challenge.
The teachers have been “overwhelmed” by Andreas’ generosity, said Lee Ann Lechtenberg, Faribault schools’ assessment coordinator.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said Jefferson Elementary Principal Yesica Louis.
Andreas, a man of few words, had little to say at the celebration, held at the Faribault Golf & Country Club. Though fancy by Hidden Gems standards, with a buffet filled with food, plenty to drink and prizes for attendees — everything from boxes of chocolate to baskets of goodies — much was the same: a focus on the virtues and praise for the honoree.
“Farmers is proud of what he does in the community, said Farmers District Manager Sam Kwainoe.
“I always like to give back,” Andreas said during the celebration. “I’ve been helped out a lot in my life.”
That assistance, Andreas said, has come from other Farmers agents and district managers who he’s met along the way. That help has brought him to a place where he’s able to help others.
“I like to give back. It makes me feel good to know someone is benefitting,” he said, describing the happiness he’s seen in the students’ eyes when they’re using something he helped purchase for the schools.
But he doesn’t do it alone, he said. His wife Dawn Andreas is always with him, always looking for ways the two of them can make a difference, whether it’s for a sick colleague, a friend of a friend who needs their spirits lifted or at Faribault Public Schools.
“I don’t do it for the recognition,” Andreas said. “I do it to help others. I sometimes wish I had more money to help others.”
Bethlehem Academy students weren’t in class Thursday morning, and it wasn’t because the school year hadn’t yet started.
As part of BA’s 2019-20 theme of community service, students divided into groups by grade level to lend a helping hand in various corners of the Faribault community.
According to BA social studies teacher Tom Madden, last year’s BA seniors responded so positively to a tornado damage cleanup day held last fall that staff decided to implement a general Student Service Day school-wide. In addition to helping out the community, he said the day gives students a chance to bond with their classmates.
“It’s a great example for these kids to know hard work and service is a part of life,” said Sue Jandro, BA math teacher and supervisor for the seniors’ service project.
In preparation for Student Service Day, teachers were asked to consider people, organizations and locations around town in need of a group of volunteers. Jandro thought about her elderly neighbor, Jane Code, who lost about 50 trees to tornado damage last year. As a result, Jandro assigned her students the task of clearing Code’s yard with chainsaws, assembly lines and a loader for wood.
BA senior Abby Goodwin said helping clean up Code’s front yard made her proud of her community. She realized she’d want the community to respond in the same way if her grandpa lived alone and a tornado affected him.
“It feels good, and I feel very helpful, and I know [Jane] appreciated it very much,” said Haley Lang, BA senior.
Added Lexi Boyd, also a senior: “BA can make such a big impact.”
The tornado last fall set the stage for more BA community service projects. Juniors cleaned up St. Lawrence Cemetery, another victim of fallen limbs, and sixth-graders cleaned up the Straight River Trail.
BA seventh-graders participated in cleaning up the invasive species, buckthorn, at the River Bend Nature Center, and eighth-graders cleaned up the Divine Mercy Catholic Church office grounds as well as Garfield Park
Cleanup wasn’t in the cards for BA sophomores. Instead, they visited residents at Milestone Senior Living and played Bingo. Freshmen were also assigned indoor service projects, which included odd jobs at IRIS (Infants Remembered in Silence).
IRIS Executive Director and Founder Diana Kelley said most of her volunteers were already familiar with IRIS since BA and Divine Mercy School offer help in different ways throughout the year.
“Multiple kids ask if they can come back and help,” said Kelley.
BA freshmen scattered throughout the house in different rooms to take inventory on Turkey Trot signs, put away items from the Little Black Dress fundraiser and organize yarn IRIS uses for baby blankets and prayer shawls.
“I feel really helpful,” said BA freshman Karlie DeGrood. “Some people aren’t able to do this … Especially with this program here, it’s cool to help others, and I enjoy it along with my classmates.”
A recent report from Explore Minnesota revealed that the state’s tourism industry had an excellent summer and that Minnesota’s lodging industry is optimistic about the near-term future.
Out of the survey of more than 300 lodging business owners, more than half said they were pleased with their financial status heading into the fall, and 42% reported increased occupancy. With the fall tourism season around the corner, 28% of lodging business owners expect to see increased occupancy, compared to 15% who do not.
Chambers of Commerce in Northfield and Faribault have also seen hefty increases in out of town guests.
The robust economy has also helped to increase the number of lodging owners. Over the last year, the total number of Minnesota resorts increased from 792 to 799, according to Explore Minnesota’s figures.
That increase reverses a decades-long trend of decline which nearly halved the state’s total number of resorts, even as revenue increased for many resorts. In addition, Explore Minnesota’s numbers show that the number of motels and campgrounds grew slightly over the same period.
Across Minnesota, the tourism industry brings in $15.3 billion a year and attracts more than 73 million travelers annually. The industry also employs 270,000 workers in the state, roughly 11 percent of Minnesota’s private sector workforce.
Robust local growth
Locally, the Minne-roadtrip partnership between the Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna Chambers of Commerce and Tourism has focused on attracting day-trippers to the area by publicizing local events and attractions. Established in 2016, the partnership uses pooled advertising funds to advertise in various publications and promote area tourism at travel expos throughout the upper Midwest.
Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson says Faribault’s tourism-related industries have had a banner year. According to Johnson, Faribault’s lodging tax brought in a record amount over the first six months of the year.
“It’s especially impressive in Faribault especially given our limited capacity,” Johnson said. “When see numbers like this, we know we’re doing really well.”
Both communities collect lodging taxes, which are transferred to the city and on to the tourism bureau to be used to promote that city and its sites. Both cities have agreements with their respective chamber of commerce to operate the tourism bureau.
Johnson said the Faribault Chamber has worked with local businesses and utilized Faribault’s proximity to I-35 to bring tourism to town. The Faribault Chamber partnered with Faribault Woolen Mill and 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers to place a billboard along I-35 near the city, and recently added another billboard near Albert Lea through a partnership with downtown Faribault's The Cheese Cave.
Northfield Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Lisa Peterson also reported a significant increase in Northfield’s occupancy. The opening of the new Fairfield Inn & Suites gave the city an additional 79 hotel rooms last year, helping the city to collect an additional 20% in lodging taxes.
“Previously, we were giving away room nights to Faribault, Lakeville and surrounding communities,” said Peterson. “People are now staying here.”
Over the last few years, the Northfield Area Chamber has implemented a robust digital marketing campaign in an attempt to draw visitors from the Upper Midwest. The city has also tried to capitalize on Minnesota's connection to Jesse James to increase tourism from that state.
Peterson said that the campaign, coupled with advertising through more traditional outlets, has helped the number of online requests for visitor information to increase by about 100 per year.
“That’s pretty significant,” she said.