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Wakefield Chamber issues annual honors, praise at reception


May 19, 2018

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

WINNERS OF annual honors from the Wakefield Chamber of Commerce hold their plaques at a Thursday evening ceremony at the municipal building. From left are Lee and Tom Brown, organizers of the open community dinner program at Wakefield United Methodist Church; chamber president Dennis Ferson; Linda Dewitt, founder of Linda's Helping Hands, and Joel Laessig, owner of Sunday Lake Kayak Rentals.


Wakefield - The Wakefield Chamber of Commerce bestowed annual honors for organization of the year, individual of the year, and business of the year at a Thursday evening reception in the community room of the Wakefield municipal building.

The organization winner was the open community dinner program of the Wakefield United Methodist Church.

Individual winner was Linda Dewitt, founder of Linda's Helping Hands, and business winner was Joel Laessig, owner of Sunday Lake Kayak Rentals.

Organization of the Year

As honorees and other guests enjoyed an array of refreshments, chamber president and emcee Dennis Ferson said the dinner program of the Wakefield United Methodist Church was the only serious candidate for the organization award.

"This is not a soup kitchen," said Ferson of the Thursday evening supper offering beef roast, lasagna, chicken cordon bleu, and holiday ham and turkey "through the long and cold U.P. winter."

Church Pastor Ted Trudgeon told the Globe that husband and wife team Tom and Lee Brown organized the dinner program five years ago.

He said about half of the congregation's 29 members help with the dinner every week, and they include young people such as Kayden Otis, Kyler Macarty, Jadelyn Abigale Breese, Mason and Hudson Connor, and Katie and K.C. Juntunen Jr.

"It's a labor of love," said the pastor, crediting members Sue Hocking as "our conscience" and Margaret Running and others for success via a "team effort."

According to Trudgeon, the church served 25 weekly meals, including more than 1,600 total individuals served, from October of last year through April of this year.

Donations are not required, but he said they covered all but $14 of the $7,000 cost of the past winter's program.

Although the food is good, the pastor said one of the most important components of the program is "the fellowship."

Individual of the Year

Ferson described individual winner Linda Dewitt as "a lady of boundless energy, limitless compassion, and an overwhelming desire to help those in need."

He said Dewitt has transformed her former greenhouse business into "Linda's Helping Hands," so as to help people in need "get on with their lives."

According to Ferson, Dewitt's five greenhouses no longer house plants, but rather are filled with donations of all sorts.

As a result, he said, "If you were in trouble, go see Linda. She could help with clothes. She could help with furniture. She could help with food."

Dewitt told the Globe that her husband, John "Jack" Dewitt, has had two strokes since 2002, but she added, "He cheers me on."

She said the donations she receives from the community make it possible for her to help emergency victims, such as a family whose house burned down or a person leaving an abusive home.

But she added that many folks she helps are "people that just don't have money."

She said her storage includes baby items, books, toys, dishes, etc.

"Some people leave with a small bag," she said. "Some leave with huge boxes."

Dewitt said Melody Davey is one of her special volunteers. "She's a good helper," said Dewitt. "She comes every day she can."

Business of the Year

When the chamber chose its business of the year, Ferson said, "We didn't look at the size of the business, the number of jobs it created, or the economic impact."

Instead, he said, they decided Sunday Lake Kayak Rentals deserved recognition for its "revitalization of Wakefield's greatest asset, Sunday Lake."

Ferson described the business run by Joel Laessig as "a most positive impact on our community."

He added, "I personally spend a lot of time in our Visitors' Center, and I find it uplifting to see the brightly colored little boats bobbing around on the lake. Visitors seeing Wakefield and Sunday Lake for the first time often comment on what a pleasant place it seems to be."

Laessig told the Globe of himself and his wife, "Diane and I both enjoyed kayaking. We're both from here, but we lived 35 years in Illinois."

They bought kayaks when they returned here, but recalled they could rent them in Illinois. He said they wondered, "Wouldn't it be nice if there were a place for people to rent kayaks here?"

Hence, the Wakefield business was born, and now Laessig said, "Our 1,000th customer was August of last year. It kind of coincided with our one-year anniversary."

Ferson also commended Laessig's business for its innovation including the premiere of Saturday night kayaking.


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