NEW ULM - There hardly seemed to be enough adjectives to describe Bobbi McCrea at the 2012 Athena Awards banquet at the New Ulm Country Club Monday. Unique, exuberant, energetic, creative, eccentric, eclectic, dedicated, joyful, caring, tough and demanding... all were used to describe McCrea.
McCrea was presented the award posthumously after she and her daughters, Abby and Savannah, died in the July 2, 2011, fire that destroyed the Bohemian Bed & Breakfast which also claimed three other victims.
There were plenty of laughs and fond memories from people who worked with Bobbi in her many volunteer activities.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Relatives of Bobbi McCrea accepted the Athena Award, presented by the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce and Jensen Motors, at the Athena Awards banquet on Monday. From left are Bobbi’s aunt, Candy McCrea; her sister, Jennie Backstrom, her mother, Ruth McCrea Simpson; and her sister, Jyneal McCrea.
"I want people here and Bobbi's family to realize how wonderful a leader Bobbi was," said Lisa Besemer, last year's Athena Award winner and the emcee for the event.
Ruth Mecklenburg, Bobbi's sister-in-law, marveled at how many experiences and memories she gained from the 5-1/2 years she was a part of Bobbi's family. Bobbi's hospitality was famous, and she loved family gatherings, said Mecklenburg.
She recalled on Easter when Bobbi came to the gathering at Mecklenburgs wearing one of her wild hats. She wore it all day long, and as she was leaving, Mecklenburg said, "Bobbi, you crack me up, wearing that hat all day."
Bobbi, surprised, reached up and felt the hat, and said, "Oh, I forgot I had it on. Oh well, you're supposed to wear an Easter Bonnet on Easter."
Bobbi could whip up a party on the spur of the moment, just as she could take a recipe and make it turn out, even without most of the called-for ingredients, said Mecklenburg.
"Bobbi's passion for life was exceeded only by her love of family and friends," said Mecklenburg. "If I live to be 100, I don't think I could come close to touching as many lives and doing as much for New Ulm as Bobbi."
Betsy Pieser, who nominated Bobbi for the award, said she first met Bobbi as her babysitter. Later, when they both moved back to New Ulm they shared stories and laughs.
"She inspired so many and educated so many. She made us feel we were her friends," said Pieser. "She always took time to help others."
Paul Warshauer, executive director of the New Ulm Actors Community Theatre, recalled how he first met Bobbi in 1991 in Klamath Falls, Ore., when she volunteered to play a maid in one of his first murder mysteries.
"I was a newcomer to Oregon, but she made me feel welcome," said Warshauer.
Improvisation on stage was second nature to Bobbi, said Warshauer. "She often flew by the seat of her pants, not because she was lazy, but because she had so much to do," he said.
Bobbi excelled at working with children. "She knew how to talk to people and helping them learn what was in their own hearts."
She liked to host parties for artists "where they could get together and 'pollinate,'" he said.
"She never stopped working with kids," he said, pointing to her work with Connection homes for foster children in Brown County, inspiring them to develop and write their own plays, and helping them grow as people.
Tracy Vranich, who worked with Bobbi at Putting Green, described how she exhibited all the Athena Award attributes there.
She showed the highest level of professional excellence on the board of directors, always challenging and pushing the organization to be better. She challenged the kids she worked with to take on tough projects, then worked with them. She always found time in spite of all the other things she had to do. She was motivated to make Putting Green better for the good of the whole community.
"She modeled for all of us what giving to one's community looked like. She didn't just talk the talk, she walked the walk, and she did it with style," said Vranich.
Diane Schaefer, from the Gag House, spoke of the emotion and exuberance Bobbi brought when she played Wanda Gag for tours. Children on school tours would go home and tell their parents they had met the real Wanda Gag.
Bobbi was also committed to making the Gag House special for all, and she was very aware of the need to make it affordable.
"When we set up our summer arts camp, Bobbi was very aware of the finances. She pointed out that Wanda wouldn't have been able to attend the camp herself as a child, she wouldn't have been able to afford it. So we had to keep the prices reasonable, and make sure we had scholarships so any child who wanted to could participate. And it worked," said Schaefer.
Bobby was committed to having real art by Wanda Gag on the walls, not copies, and when she felt she had given enough time to the home, Bobbi recruited a student, Olivia Finden, and trained her to take over the role.
"Bobbi, your dreams are being lived every day at the Gag House," said Schaefer.
Chris Bodick, coordinator at the River Bend Special Education District, spoke of the time Bobbi spent in all three of the programs, how she contributed as a substitute teacher, as a part time secretary, and as a mentor to the many of the toughest students in the school.
One day Bodick told her, "I'm going to have to hire you just to come here every day and be positive."
This year, in Bobbi's honor, River Bend has been handing out Bobbi Awards for the students who have made a positive impact on the school.
Bobbi was remembered as someone who had a great impact, and continues to have a great impact on New Ulm.
Bobbi's family accepted the award. Her mother, Ruth McCrea Simpson, said she was touched by the turnout and the kind words said about her daughter, then added, "We always told her she was adopted." She thanked Warshauer and the New Ulm Actors Community Theatre for the tribute on Sunday at the Gag House, which featured the song from the musical "Carousel," "You'll Never Walk Alone," a favorite of hers.
Bobbi's fianc, Charlie Zangl, also thanked the crowd. He recalled that when their friend, Anne Makepeace won the award a few years ago, he told Bobbi, "You know, someday you're going to win this. She looked at me and said, 'Oh, Charlie...'"
Bobbi's sister Jyneal pointed out that Bobbi was always busy with her many activities. "I'm convinced she didn't sleep much, but she always dreamed, and she dreamt of a brighter future for all. So go out and help continue that brighter future."