Lester Heggernes (right), age 94 of Boutwells Landing in Oak Park Heights, soap and shampoo for people who are homeless living at Union Gospel Mission, an organization that helped him in his teens. (Submitted photo)

At 94, Lester Heggernes’ age belies his vigor for life. 

As a 13-year resident at Boutwells Landing in Oak Park Heights, he appears not to know how to act his age. His passion to be involved with people, solve problems and take on activities that make a meaningful difference fill his daily life.

In 2017, the Union Gospel Mission hosted the premiere of “Same Kind of Difference as Me,” a film on the power of restoring lives of those who are homeless.

Heggernes arranged for the video to be shown to the Boutwells Landing community. In reading brochures about the Mission, he noticed its requirement of a daily shower by each resident. With 400 possible residents, Heggernes believed donating a simple bar of soap would be a helpful gesture and expected that his Boutwells Landing neighbors would agree.

In March of this year, the Boutwells Landing management granted the approval for “Boutwells Bountiful Bath Baskets” (BBBB). Heggernes asked his extended family to support the idea and utilized sales and marketing ideas from his son, Mike.

A poster, banner and display boards were created to share information about the Mission and highlight the required daily shower.

“We appreciate Lester’s passion for helping the men, women and children at the Union Gospel Mission. His heart and history have been fun to get to know,” said LeNae Williamson, development manager for the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities. “With the daily shower, the need for bath items is tremendous. To have support from the Boutwells Landing community is so valuable.”

This was not the first time Heggernes encountered the Mission.

In 1939, at age 14, he discovered the Ober Boys Club, operated by the Union Gospel Mission. It was only 10 blocks away from his home, which was next to the State Capitol, but for Heggernes, it was another world.

He remembers playing cards and basketball games, club leaders willing to listen and engage in conversations, and being served cookies and soft drinks. He credits the Club with steering his life into positive directions.

“The Ober Boys Club offered me friendships, positive experiences and welcome conversations,” said Heggernes. “It was a sharp contrast to life at home.”

His home life had a more somber mood.

His father, a carpenter, lost his hand after a work injury and since he could no longer keep his job, the family went on welfare.

To help provide additional income, his mother opened the house to four tenants. She played piano and welcomed them with music and puzzles, but the small house with one bathroom for eight people was a challenge.

Although Heggernes remembers a makeshift camper and his father taking him and his brother on trips to Canada, his dad was mainly serious and tight lipped, and did not value sports or play activities with his sons.

Heggernes easily shares stories of his marriage of 66 years, raising five sons, leadership in Boy Scouts and coaching baseball and a successful 32-year career at 3M. He was rooted in a church-going family and has no doubt that lives are changed for the good by daily miracles, just as his was with the Ober Boys Club.

And have the Boutwells Baskets been a success?

Measuring the weight of the monthly contributions (bars of soap, towels and bottles of toiletries), an average of 60 pounds of bath products per month have been collected in the first four months. Heggernes said he is pleased with the results so far.

To expand donations Heggernes is cooking up more marketing ideas.

For summer, he asked the Boutwells Landing Market to offer small soap and towel packages for BBBB labeled as “Grand Slam” and “Round Tripper” to fit into the baseball season.

On the horizon, he is considering a Guinness Book Record for a single day collection of bars of soap at a senior housing group.

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