One Rush City couple probably gets more out of helping others than those on the receiving end of their acts of kindness and compassion.
Now it’s the community’s turn to give something back to Bill and Millie Peters, who have been selected for the 2012 Rush City Community Service Award. The Rush City Chamber of Commerce wishes to recognize the couple during a special awards banquet Saturday, Jan. 19 in The Spare Room at Chucker’s Bowl & Lounge.
Millie said she and Bill learned they won the award during a phone conversation last November with Mike Carroll, who received the honor in 2011.
“I told Mike, ‘You have to be kidding,’” she recalled. “It is an honor.”
Bill and Millie moved from the Twin Cities to the Rush City area in 1996, when they found the lake home they were searching for to start retirement life.
Previously, Bill owned R&R Specialties, a refrigeration and ice arena service, out of Bloomington, Minn., for 20 years. He graduated from Minneapolis West High School in 1951.
Millie, meantime, worked in customer service for American Fruit and Produce out of Eagan before taking a job as bookkeeper for her husband’s company. She’s a graduate of Sibley High in West St. Paul.
After selling the business, they headed north and settled on a place off East Rush Lake in the Shorewood housing development. They soon became members of First Evangelical Lutheran Church where they found opportunities to serve others.
For 12 years, they and another couple participated in the Adopt-a-Highway program, picking up trash along a 1-mile stretch of Co. Rd. 1 — just a mile or so west from where they live.
“There was a lot of trash, and cars would honk in support of us,” Bill said.
Added Millie, “It was a good project, a rewarding task. Afterward, we went to the Rush City Bakery and had the biggest rolls (apple fritters, for sure) in the case. That was the highlight of the day.”
Yet the couple was just getting started in their service to the community, which quickly became home. They answered a call about 10 years ago to start the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at Rushseba Town Hall. With help from many volunteers and other local churches, part of the duty is picking up people if they need a ride to the feast and serving others Meals on Wheels-style.
“A lot of people want to help, whether to serve food or help clean,” said Millie. “One volunteer just wanted to wash pots and pans. It’s tough sometimes to fill positions (based on the volume of people wanting to volunteer). The people we serve are kind of scraping by (and going through) hard times. To volunteer is rewarding. It makes you feel grateful.”
Christmas Caring Tree
Bill and Millie also got involved with the Christmas Caring Tree, a Rush City Cares project, which gives the community the opportunity to purchase Christmas gifts for children, from infants to senior high age, of local families in need.
Families must live in the Rush City school district area and can apply at their child’s school or local food shelf. The event is held at the grocery center mall where shoppers can pluck a tag with gift ideas — as requested from each participating child — off of the “caring tree.”
“One time a young man asked for sheets, as some children ask for basic things,” Millie said with a sad look in her eye. “We have a $35 maximum/minimum (price limit), but some people will go all out. One year, a guy bought a bike with helmet.”
Once the gifts are purchased and matched with the children who requested them, the parents are able to claim the presents at the Rush City Community Center. Some families are even chosen to receive $50 gift certificates to buy food at the grocery store. When the parents arrive, emotions of joy lend a sobering reminder of the project’s mission and meaning behind the Christmas season.
“They (some parents) are so young,” Millie observed. “Some of them cry. One woman reacted, ‘I’m so grateful. I got gifts, and now I also have groceries.’ How can you not cry? This is why we’re doing this.”
She credits the Rush City Lions, Thrivent Financial and Rush City Cares for providing donation money, which assures all families who apply receive gifts.
Bill and Millie have a heart for children all over the globe, too. Through Operation Christmas Child, they help fill shoeboxes with school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, stuffed animals, candy and more for boys and girls in third world countries. Destinations have included Haiti and small countries in Africa.
“It’s quite an operation,” she noted.
When word arrives
Bill has enjoyed his time with the Rush City Lions, an organization that just awarded him his 10-year pin. He also received the Melvin Jones Fellow award around five years ago for dedicated humanitarian services to the community.
“It’s a good bunch of guys and gals,” he explained. “Some of the projects we come up with are heart warming, such as building a wheelchair ramp and maintaining it for folks. Some members have carpentry skills. We’re there when word arrives.”
Bill serves in other capacities, as well, including treasurer on the Shorewood Sanitary District Board. Living in a community within a community, Shorewood residents have their own sewer and roadway system.
“We maintain that for 108 families,” he said.
Millie, too, wears multiple caps in the community, from sitting on the Thrivent Financial Board to being a long-time election judge to serving as treasurer for the Rush City Cares group, which is managed by local pastors.
“Pastors call me with needs in the community; the money strictly comes from donations,” she explained, noting it gives temporary financial help to members of the Rush City community who are in a crisis situation.
She also belongs to the Rush City Women’s Club, a 90-year-old organization that gives scholarships to high school seniors. And her work continues at church where she is alter guild and serves on the Parish Hall ministry and church council.
When asked why they volunteer, Bill and Millie say they have the time, their health and means to give back to others less fortunate. They enjoy the work and understand a lot of people are struggling right now to makes ends meet. They’ve gotten to know and appreciate the community, too.
“The people here are outstanding,” said Bill. “Through my involvement with the Lions, it feels good to reach out to others. Even a smile can make a difference.”
Millie summarized her feelings by citing her favorite Bible verse: “This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
The Community Service Award presentation Jan. 19 begins with a 6 p.m. social hour, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. and the presentation ceremony at 8 p.m. For tickets ($17.50 per person), call Loring Nelson at 320-358-4209, Mike Carroll at 320-358-4735 or the Rush City Chamber at 320-358-4639. Tickets also can be purchased at Unity Bank, Hermann Insurance, Chucker’s or Hairdo or Dye.