Lake Minnetonka community overflows with kindness and dedication.
You’ve heard of the proverbial tip of the iceberg. While it generally has a negative connotation, I kept thinking of that phrase while deciding what to feature in this Editor’s Picks article. The truth of the matter is this: There are so many people, places and programs that could and should land in this piece. This community has a wealth of wonderful elements to celebrate and on which the spotlight should shine its appreciative glow.
In a time when communities have needed to come together and support one another during a period that has tested most of us in terms of health and well-being, careers, education and more, I feel it is worth highlighting some ways in which a helping hand was offered—once, often or even over the course of 21 years.
Pride in community doesn’t even begin to describe the hearts and souls of this area. After much consideration, I’m pleased to bring you my 2022 Editor’s Picks—which are only a glimmer of this community’s bright lights.
Ask Charlie Wurdell, 11, to pen an essay about how he spent his summer vacation, and it’ll include building fences, watering a garden (“a lot!”) and harvesting more than his fair share of tomatoes. The soon-to-be sixth grader at Minnetonka Middle School East received a gold-level Presidential Service Award for his more than 100 hours of volunteer efforts, most of which came by way of tending to a garden plot at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Excelsior.
Last summer, Charlie helped his family plant a garden, featuring a wide variety of tomatoes, several selections of peppers, beans, watermelons, pumpkins and sunflowers. The bounty supplied the Intercongregation Communities Association Food Shelf (ICA) with more than 971 pounds of fresh produce. “We planted it in June 2021. We thought that it would be a fun way to help people,” Charlie says. (Tonkadale Greenhouse in Minnetonka donated the plants
for the garden.)
Measuring just over 2,000 square feet, the garden required a fair amount of attention. “I helped build the fence,” Charlie says. “I watered a lot, picked a ton of tomatoes and some weeds … It was fun to see the plants grow.”
There were some unexpected results. “I was surprised how many tomatoes needed to be picked every day,” he says. “It was fun picking and weighing the tomatoes. We ran out of boxes.”
Charlie and his family are tending the garden again this year, and Charlie is goal-setting. He says, “We’re going to try to get over 1,000 pounds … for ICA.”
ICA Food Shelf
12990 St. Davids Road, Minnetonka (administration); 952.938.0729
Superintendent Dennis Peterson, PhD, retired last month after 21 years with Minnetonka Public Schools. When he came to the district in 2001, having arrived from Princeton City Schools in Ohio, where he served as superintendent, Peterson started serving about 7,500 students. Today, the district includes about 11,250 students, including enrollments in K–12 in-person school and the K–12 Tonka Online e-learning school.
That growth has the support of the community. “Minnetonka has always been a very special community in the way it supports our students and the schools,” Peterson says. “Community members provide their time and financial support to important projects.”
Some of those projects have affected what Peterson views as his legacy. “I think my legacy will be that I have enabled students to attain high performance levels and to have programs and services that allow them to learn at high levels,” he says. “We established a financially-strong district during a time when all other Minnesota districts were struggling. We provided new facilities that will serve the community well for the next 50 years. I hope people remember that I was a student-focused leader who provided support for every student and that each of our students will have a better life because of those efforts.”
When asked to articulate three words that best describe his tenure, Peterson says, “committed to students.” That commitment brought forward many special moments over the years. His favorites? “Watching students succeed in anything they do,” Peterson says. He also called out the Celebration of Excellence programs, multiple recognitions for school community members, championship athletic seasons and “graduation every year, which is the payoff for all of our work.”
Once an educator, always an educator. Peterson imparts some thoughts for his successor. “This is a very unique district that supports leaders who care about their children,” he says. “Treat the children as special people. Continue to provide the resources the district needs to sustain its quality. Learn how unique the district really is, and value it.”
Minnetonka Public Schools
5621 County Road 101, Minnetonka; 952.401.5000
To honor military veterans, Holger Dental Group in Minnetonka performed about $150,000 worth of dental work for veterans, most of which happened in November 2021.
“[Holger Meiser, DDS] has a passion for treating the aging population with dignity and respect, providing advanced treatment options through the latest technologies to help restore function and esthetics in patients who may be struggling financially or just haven’t found the right dentist to care for them comprehensively,” says Meghan Kagigebi, chief operating officer.
“The veterans and older populations as a whole have really suffered from lack of good dental care throughout their lives. We have the ability now—through the advances in digital dentistry—to change lives drastically,” Meiser says.
With the help of 11 team members, attention was directed to general dental procedures, including cleanings, fillings and extractions; and advanced surgical procedures, including implants, bone grafts, dentures, crowns and bridges. “The goal was to provide care to the vets as if they were our own patients and family,” Meiser says. “We worked with our labs and suppliers, who donated implants, crowns and supplies for some of the patients, and other lab fees were paid by [Meiser],” Kagigebi says.
A wide range of patients were served, from younger veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder to veterans of the Vietnam War, who were mostly edentulous, and were provided with implant supported dentures, taking them from very limited chewing abilities and soft diets to being able to handle a larger variety of foods for the first time in more than 40 years, according to Meiser.
This was the first year the event was offered. “We wanted to make a difference and felt that at this time—more than ever—we need to focus on all the opportunities we have and the people who protect them,” Meiser says. And there are plans for another event. “We learned a lot this year and want to make it even better next year by getting even more support from the community for these vets,” he says.
The veterans aren’t the only ones who appreciated the services. “A daughter of one of our vets cried at a denture fitting appointment … [her father] looked so alive and youthful for the first time in many years. Her tears and gratitude reflected so many of the feelings patients had that day,” Meiser says.
Holger Dental Group
17601 MN-7 Suite 200, Minnetonka; 952.217.5201
Paul Engelman + Peter Hitch + Caroline Melberg + Jon Reyerson = more than 40 years experience.
The members of the James J. Hill Days committee have transformed a small town community, one-day event with 50 booths to a three-day festival along Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata that brims with activity each and every day.
“They proudly carry forward the tradition of the event while keeping it fresh and interesting, and it provides important fundraising to the Wayzata Area Chamber of Commerce that allows us to do what we do for businesses and the community,” says Becky Pierson, president of the chamber of commerce. “We are grateful for their sacrifice, time and dedication to making this a premier event …”
James J. Hill Days 2022 will be celebrated on September 9–11. “Since 1975, the weekend following Labor Day in Wayzata has been dedicated to honoring James J. Hill, a Minnesota historic figure and once owner of the Great Northern Railroad Company,” Pierson explains. “Hill, builder of the present train depot in 1906, contributed significantly to transform Wayzata into the beautiful tourist location and friendly community we know today.”
While the celebration continues to be a popular event (It’s estimated that this year’s crowd could top 75,000 people.), it doesn’t magically come together. Individuals, like members of this organizing committee, play an important role. “Community events could not happen without the support of volunteers, and having key volunteers—who are committed, longstanding and consistent—make them not only successful, but they make them ‘sing,’” Pierson says.
While volunteerism certainly benefits the community, Pierson underscores other upshots to service. “Volunteering can be contagious,” she says. “There is nothing like a group of volunteers coming together for an event, owning a piece of it and enjoying the [feeling] when it comes together, and you see the smiles and joy it brings. Try it, you’ll like it!”
Greater Wayzata Area Chamber of Commerce
402 Lake St. E., Wayzata; 952.473.9595