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United Way of Hastings board president Joy Johnson delivers a speech during the organization’s 50th anniversary gala on Saturday night. About 400 people packed Mother Seton Hall at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church for the gala. Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson

United Way of Hastings hits 50 years: Former Viking Matt Birk was keynote speaker at gala on Saturday night

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The United Way of Hastings sure knows how to throw a birthday party. The organization celebrated its 50th year on Saturday night with a gala at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church that was highlighted by a keynote speech from former Minnesota Viking Matt Birk.

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Birk joked at the beginning of his speech that it was pretty uncommon from a Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, such as he is, to be invited into Hastings. He then got much more serious, talking about the recent tragedies involving Hastings youths and the work that the United Way of Hastings has done to help out. He referenced the Hastings Kids Succeed program, which is led by the UWH and by Derek Peterson, an international youth advocate.

Peterson was at the banquet and said that Birk spent an hour talking with him after the conclusion of the program.

Birk appeared to have done his homework for the event. He talked about how the United Way of Hastings is a local chapter, meaning that 100 percent of the money raised in Hastings stays in Hastings.

Birk then thanked the people in the room for their work with children.

Birk wasn’t the only one to have his time in front of the audience. The emcee of the event was Jamie Yuccas of WCCO television. She helped dole out three awards to start off the night.

The first award was given to Lew Linde, one of the founding members of the United Way of Hastings. He was asked by the UWH to describe himself in 10 words or less and replied:  “Working for the poor, disadvantaged and broken-hearted.”  

His lifetime of giving has continued. He is working pro-bono with domestic abuse victims through Dakota County legal assistance. He was honored with the Legacy Award.

Amy Schaffer, a steady UWH volunteer, was then honored as the organization’s Outstanding Volunteer.

Among her accomplishments has been managing the E-Volunteer Network, which pairs organizations with volunteers.

“She managed the network with enthusiasm, always looking to lend a hand where needed,” Yuccas read. “Amy soon took on more at the United Way of Hastings by managing its social media and spreading the word about the good work that is done in the community through generous donations. That led to taking on the website maintenance. Amy is a loving and caring person that is very humble. She describes herself as just wanting to help others.”

Lastly, Yuccas recognized the event’s platinum sponsor, Smead Manufacturing. Sharon Avent, Smead’s president, was in attendance and received recognition from the United Way.

“Things went so well,” executive director Mari Mellick said. “We really couldn’t have had a better evening. “We got a lot of positive feedback and comments from people. It was just a fun, celebratory evening.

“I hope that people took away from it that the United Way has been this silent fundraiser in the community for 50 years. We really do need people’s help to continue on and be viable for another 50 years.”

Gratitude

The event was possible in large part, the United Way said, because several area businesses teamed up with the organization to throw the gala.

“I would like to thank all of the businesses that partnered with us to make our 50th celebration possible,” said UWH board president Joy Johnson. “This event couldn’t have taken place without their support as well as the numerous volunteers who helped us make this evening a night to remember. Thank you! I have had such a wonderful response from so many people. Thank you to the community, for your support, as well everyone who attended for helping us celebrate 50 years.”

Wade Beyer is a member of the board of directors.

“It was a great evening and something special to mark the occasion,” he said. “The United Way of Hastings has been around now for 50 years and helped many charities get started. If you don’t believe me, pick a couple and ask them if they have been helped by UWH.”

A total of about 400 people filled the hall to its capacity.

“Everyone was dressed to the nines and the support for this sold out event was amazing, from the 400 in attendance to the numerous local businesses who stepped up big time to support the event,” Beyer said. “A warm thank you goes out to all of them.”

Helping Kids Succeed

Birk’s speech covered much of the work being done by Helping Kids Succeed: The Hastings Way, but when he spent an hour afterwards learning more about the program, that really meant a lot to leaders in that program and the United Way of Hastings.

“He didn’t have to do that,” Mellick said. “Keynote speakers, they usually fly in and fly out. They come in for their piece and they are on their way. He stayed. He was very generous. He even donated the sales of his books that evening to the United Way of Hastings.

“You don’t expect people to do that. When they go above and beyond like that, it’s really fun to see.”

It appears possible that Birk will begin to help out the Hastings group in some way.

“He said he liked the work we do,” said Rob McMenemy, the group’s director of connections. “He wanted to hear the stories from the kids about how The Hastings Way is coming along. He’s interested in helping us. He wants to help out.”

Birk has his own foundation, the Hike Foundation, where he helps provide at-risk children with opportunities to excel in the classroom and in life.

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Chad Richardson
Chad Richardson is the publisher and editor at the Hastings Star Gazette. He was the general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He previously worked at the Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.
(651) 319-4500
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