Sauk Centre native Brenda Jennissen carries her hometown with her always in her heart. Although she traveled to St. Paul for her college education, gaining a degree in public relations and community health education, she returned to the place where she was rooted. Her passions have always lain with the greater Sauk Centre community and the smaller communities of people within it.
“I was raised to be involved,” she said. “I enjoy being involved and hopefully making this world a better place. I want to be a good example for my kids.”
Brenda is the president and CEO of Felling Trailers, and co-owner with her sister, Bonnie Radjenovich. It’s a family affair, with her husband, Patrick, also on the leadership team. Brenda and Patrick have three daughters.
One of the many groups and organizations that Brenda is involved in is the Western Stearns Creating Entrepreneur Opportunities (WSCEO). She was instrumental in getting the group established in Stearns County.
“We took our cue from Kandiyohi County, which had a similar group. High school juniors and seniors take a class that is held at local businesses. There is a whole gamut of industries in their backyard,” said Brenda.
The class is sponsored by a different business or group each semester. Felling Trailers was the first host in fall 2019. Some of the class sessions are held at the host location, teaching students new skills such as how to meet new people and do job interviews. Other class sessions are held touring local businesses.
The Western Stearns group is a partnership between the Sauk Centre, Melrose and Albany school districts.
Holy Family School is a particular love of Brenda’s.
“My dad went there, I did and my children go there,” she said. “I have such fond memories.”
As a parent, Brenda used scrip cards that were offered by the school for fundraising, but were being severely under-utilized. A few parents developed a new strategy for using the scrip cards, much like gift cards.
The school purchases the cards from a local retailer. When each card is used, the retailer gives the school a rebate. Coborn’s gives back 2%. Sauk Centre Fleet gives back 10%. Now, there is a tuition credit program established where a portion of the rebate is given to the card user.
“Not just parents, but grandparents and community members can buy the cards. They can designate where they want the tuition credits to go — to the school or to a particular family’s tuition,” Brenda explained.
Use of the program has steadily increased since the tuition credits were set up.
As a board member of the Sauk Centre Area Community Foundation, Brenda has been involved in many projects to improve Sauk Centre. The foundation has been a catalyst in many things in town, including the bronze statue of Sinclair Lewis that stands outside the main library entrance; bringing Junior Achievement to Sauk Centre; getting the community garden established; and bringing robotics to the high school. The most recent project is due to open later this month, a fitness challenge course at Challenge Park in Sinclair Lewis Park along the lakeshore.
“The idea for Challenge Park came from Ninja Warrior Park in Golden Valley,” Brenda said. “In October 2018, we went there and the girls loved it. They didn’t want to leave.”
She spoke with others and they too visited the park. They all agreed that Sauk Centre definitely needed a park like it.
“I have always been passionate about health and fitness, and living a healthy lifestyle,” said Brenda.
Challenge Park is situated between the skate park and the splash pad.
In spring 2020, Brenda was one of the women in the community who established a ladies group called The Larks. She and Sara Thompson created the group of 23 who meet once a month at various local businesses.
“We had been meeting with friends once a week before that and then we heard about a group meeting in the Metro area. So we formalized a group here,” she said.
The Larks not only give business to the place they meet, which was a huge benefit during restrictions in 2020, but they also take up a collection at every meeting which is then donated in cash or in kind to a local organization such as an assisted living, or a business, or the fire department. A different group member chooses the beneficiaries each month.
The leadership at Felling Trailers also support and encourage employees to be involved in the community in whatever ways they can. The team itself often helps with events in the community.
“We ask for help from the team members,” said Brenda. “We have almost a dozen firefighters and they leave whenever there is a call.”
Instead of standing on the sidelines, Brenda is one of the people actively participating in the life of Sauk Centre.
“People ask, ‘Why can’t we have that in Sauk Centre?’ and I say, ‘Do something about it,’” she said. “I like to find a solution rather than just complaining.”
She gets immense satisfaction out of seeing a job well done, whatever it might be.
“My greatest satisfaction is knowing I’m doing my best to make the community better than it was, whether that’s my school community, my work community or my city,” she said.