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A marriage of 58 years built on love and dedication has led Arthur “Art” and Edith “Edie” Kaunonen to the Isanti County area, where they’ve spent more than 50 years volunteering in a variety of different capacities together.
“I went to college and got my teaching degree and then in the fall of 1964 I got a job in Braham where I taught social studies classes, history and geography,” Art said.
Edie also found work in the Braham Area School District, and with both of them working in the school district, they began volunteering for a variety of different organizations.
“We got into Jaycees and Mrs. Jaycees, and that’s what got us really going on getting involved,” Edie said.
“I also started managing the concession stand for the athletic department, which is what got us involved in the school,” Art said.
As soon as one would interview, the other would follow.
“Edie would do the phone calls and gather donations for things, while I would drive and do some of the heavy lifting,” Art said.
The partnership between the two was something that didn’t go unnoticed by those nominating the couple for the 2020 Minnesota State Fair Outstanding Citizen Award, and being recognized as Isanti County’s 2020 Outstanding Seniors.
Marie Meyer, past athletic director for Braham Schools and retired teacher who knew both Art and Edie, wrote a letter in support of the couple for the award.
In her letter, Meyer talked about the couple’s dedication over the past 30 years she’s worked with them.
“Art volunteered to work on a wide range of projects for clubs, organizations, school events and many other groups in the Braham community for the past 40-plus years,” Meyer said. “Edie is currently the lead team member on the Braham Hall of Fame Selection Committee. I have also had the privilege of working with Edie on several boards, committees and organizations.”
“I highly recommend Edie (and) Art Kaunonen to be the Isanti County Outstanding Senior Volunteer,” Meyer added.
Louis Nelson, a longtime friend and past co-worker, also wrote letters of support for the couple.
“Edie is someone you can count on to be there for everyone who needs a helping hand,” Nelson said in the nomination letter. “If you want someone you can count on, Art is the man.”
Throughout their volunteer experiences, both Art and Edie have dedicated their time to a variety of organizations.
Art’s volunteer experience spans from being on the Braham City Council for 18 years, to being a member of the Braham Committee for Kids,
volunteering at events like Braham Pie Day and Braham Appreciation Day as well as coaching traveling basketball for five years.
It’s the variety of volunteer options that kept him interested and dedicated to his community, according to Art.
“The satisfaction of seeing stuff done that would benefit the community or benefit the people, and just helping out around the community was the reason we did it,” Art said. “Being able to see that you could make a difference really was great.
For Edie, volunteering in a variety of different capacities is what helps to keep her active and involved in the community she loves.
Edie’s volunteerism can be seen in her dedication to the Mrs. Jaycees, the Braham Community Center, Braham Improvement Beautification Committee as well as coordinating events within the Braham Area School District.
“It is really about meeting people and working together for the community through volunteering that we do all of the volunteering,” Edie said. “We have really met some good people while volunteering in the community.”
Both Art and Edie have been awarded for their dedication in the past as well.
Art was inducted into the Braham Hall of Fame in 2008, recognized by the Minnesota State High School Basketball Coaches Association for his dedication as a coach and was named the Baseball Conference Coach of the Year in both 1992 and 1999.
Edie was awarded the Minnesota State Mrs. Jaycees Key Woman Award, was inducted into the Braham Hall of Fame in 1999 and received the Braham Athletic Department Distinguished Award twice.
It was clear to those around them that Art and Edie spent hundreds of hours a year volunteering to make their community a better place, according to their nominator Marie Grundberg.
In her nomination letters, Grundberg wrote: “Edith is a woman who volunteers for many years and has impacted the Braham schools and community. Art is another volunteer that is humble and doesn’t need to be recognized for all the volunteering he’s done.”
“Edith and Art work as a team when volunteering together. Very special, hard working and nice and respectful persons to all they come in contact with,” Grundberg concluded.
What started as one volunteer opportunity branched off into dozens, and as it did, Art and Edie found their niche. To this day they continue to dedicate their time to their community and those around them.
“Our volunteering just slowly branched out to other things the more we said yes,” Art said.
“People who knew you were interested in volunteering would call to see if you wanted to volunteer with them, and it was hard to say no,” Edie said.
As they get older and begin to find the right time to say no to new opportunities so others can rise up and begin their volunteering experience, the pair are hopeful they are able to continue volunteering for some of their favorite organizations.
“We really want to stay with what we are doing right now and be good at it,” Art said.
“We look forward to continuing to volunteer, especially as events begin to be held and the community comes together,” Edie said. “We are humbled by this nomination and are excited to be nominated together even though we know a lot of other people who volunteer in the community and deserve to be recognized as well.”