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Sertoma Club of New Ulm impacts community for more than 5 decades

Submitted photo The Sertoma Club of New Ulm’s first project involved taking kids up to a Minnesota Twins game in 1970. Above is a photo of the kids that went to the game.

NEW ULM — The Sertoma Club of New Ulm has given back to New Ulm in numerous ways over the past five decades, all while learning about the community, developing relationships and having fun.

Sertoma (SERvice TO MAnkind) is an international civic organization with a primary focus in communication since 1963 — helping those with speech and hearing disabilities. It’s the third oldest service organization in the United States, having its origin in Kansas City, MO in 1912.

The Sertoma Club of New Ulm will have its 50th + 2 Anniversary Celebration this Tuesday on May 3 at the New Ulm Country Club.

Those interested in attending this Tuesday’s anniversary celebration can RSVP by calling Joe’s Camper Sales at 507-354-8106 by no later than 3 p.m. Monday. The celebration will begin at 6 p.m. and costs $25 per person to attend, payable at the door.

NEW ULM CLUB GETS STARTED

Journal file photo by Bruce Fenske Officers for the Sertoma Club of New Ulm are, seated from left to right, Jerry Gilbertson of Mankato, chairman of the board; Jerry Herzog, president, and Wayne Plagge, secretary-treasurer. Standing from left to right are Jerry Hudrlik, vice president; Charles Engmark, sergeant-at-arms; Tom Larson and Steve Marquardt, vice presidents.

The Sertoma Club of New Ulm was founded in 1970 with a total of 37 members and Jerry Herzog serving as the club’s first president. Tom Larson, Jerry Hudrlik and Steven Marquardt were the club’s first vice presidents.

The charter banquet was held on Feb. 6, 1970 at Turner Hall.

The Sertoma Club of New Ulm has met weekly for the past 52 years except for a part of 2020 due to the pandemic. The club currently meets Wednesday mornings at the New Ulm Country Club, with the meetings including a breakfast followed by a program arranged for by a designated Sertoma. Once monthly, a business meeting is held in lieu of a program.

The club’s first meeting was held at Eibner’s, a restaurant, bakery and candy making factory on North Minnesota Street. The club also held meetings at locations such as the Dacotah Hotel, Eberts Chalet and Madsen’s before settling in at the New Ulm Country Club.

Two charter members, Joe Lamecker and Wayne Plagge, are still with New Ulm’s group today, which currently has 33 members. Plagge was the group’s first secretary-treasurer and is also a former district and regional Sertoman of the Year.

Submitted photo From this 2021 photo, members of the New Ulm Sertoma Club cleaned up a portion of Highway 15 South of New Ulm. The club does this twice a year for MNDoT. Members pictured from left to right are LaNaye Kral, Steve Schneider, Deb Christian, Jeff Bertrang, Sam Jacobs and Ron Schaefer.

ACTIVITIES

The list of current activities the club participates in is substantial. One major program the club is involved with is the Santa’s Closet Project for Brown County, which started in 1975 by Brown County Family Services and was taken over by Sertoma in 1985. This program serves 350-450 children annually.

Steve Schneider, a club member for 35 years, said his favorite activity to do with the club is Santa’s Closet and Santa in the Summer fundraising.

“My favorite [project] would be Santa’s Closet,” Schneider said. “The number of kids and families we impact with that service — it is one time that our club really comes together. There are very few members that don’t make it to help out with that project.”

Other activities the club is involved with include contributing towards the cost of equipment and technology to serve those hearing impaired, providing financial support to various camps for children with hearing impairments and other disabilities, ditch clean-up on Highway 15 South, planting flowers in flower boxes on Broadway, Santa in the Summer fundraising for Santa’s Closet and advocating for hearing protection through its SAFE EARS program.

File photo by Clay Schuldt From this 2021 file photo, Sertoma members (L to R) Gerg Kjellberg, LaNaye Kral, Steve Schneider, Shannon Hillesheim, Louie Austvold, Laurie Austvold, Lisa Mack and Wayne Plagge organize the 2021 Santa’s Closet at the New Ulm Armory building.

The Sertoma Club of New Ulm has also presented the Service to Mankind Award every year since 1970, excluding 2016, 2020 and 2021. The award is given to a member of the community that stands out in terms of their volunteer service to the community. The first recipient was Al Tietl.

While the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the award in 2020 and 2021, the club is planning a Service to Mankind banquet this fall. Anyone in the community can nominate someone for this award.

REMINISCING

Pat Herzog, a 30-year club member and the son of the club’s first president Jerry Herzog, said that some of his favorite memories with the Sertoma Club of New Ulm came long before he was even in the club.

“I think my favorite memories … a lot of them were before I was in Sertoma, when I was a child,” he said. “We used to go camping in the summertime … for many years we would pick a weekend and go camping and that was just a blast. It’s really just the camaraderie. I know a lot of people in town just being a child of the first president and being involved in all those things. We also had various fundraisers when we were kids. As an 8 or 9-year-old kid going along as my dad sold mops and handy-hanks. As I got older when I got into the club, we were still doing light bulb sales, so I was actually able to do that myself.”

Submitted photo Jerry Herzog, right, was elected the Sertoma Club of New Ulm’s first president in December of 1969.

The club’s had its first fundraiser in 1970, taking a group of kids to a Twins game.

“Our first fundraiser was — the club’s going to go to watch a Twins game and it ended up nobody wanted to go in the club other than a handful,” Plagge said. “So we said, ‘Well, what the heck, let’s sponsor a bunch of kids that probably never went to a ballgame.’ From there we had to get a project, so Jerry and I signed a loan with Citizen’s Bank to pay for this trip ($300). Then we had our mops and handy-hank fundraiser, and that’s the beginning.”

Lamecker said that the early days were challenging with fundraising.

“It was challenging,” Lamecker said. “You used to almost hate to give up three nights a week to sell handy-hanks and mops, then we switched to light bulbs. And we sold a lot of lightbulbs.”

CHALLENGES AND CHANGES

Submitted photo Al Tietel, above, was the Sertoma Club of New Ulm’s first Service to Mankind Award winner in 1970.

The club has seen changes in numbers, activities and members over the years, but Plagge said that the biggest challenge has been getting younger people to join.

“And I think it’s unique to the whole United States for nonprofits,” Plagge said. “I was actually 22 when we started, I was a young guy in the club … so I was the kid in the club, and now I’m the old man in the club.”

Sam Jacobs, a five-year member and the club’s current president, said that with the dropping numbers, he’s glad the group has the members it does.

“That is one thing that has changed with service clubs,” Jacobs said. “There was a time that it was almost an obligation to be in a service club, or two. And we’ve gotten away from that. So the fact that we have the wonderful group that we do — it’s fantastic that people have made the commitment of their time to come and do this.”

Schneider said one trouble with getting youth into the club today has been the 7 a.m. meeting times. He did say, however, that it’s worked out best for everyone involved currently and the club still has a lot of fun, something Pat Herzog agreed with.

“We do have a lot of our speakers comment, ‘Boy, for seven o’clock in the morning, you guys are pretty with it,'” Pat Herzog said.

CONTINUING THE CLUB

The Sertoma Club of New Ulm is always looking for new members to continue carrying on the group’s great history.

“We see a lot of benefits for people to join a service club in addition to the fact that we hope that people feel some commitment and loyalty to our community and wanting to give back,” Schneider said.

Being in the club is a commitment to be taken seriously, but Lamecker said he’s still had a lot of fun over the years.

“We really did have a lot of camaraderie,” Lamecker said. “Some of those early fundraisers that we did in the club — that was serious. But at the same time, in the evening after we were done, we had a good time.”

If interested in becoming a member, please contact Denise Fischer, the Chairperson of the Membership Committee, by calling 507-404-1000 or emailing fischerdenise23@gmail.com. Those interested can also contact any current member to accompany them as a guest to a meeting.

Anyone interested in providing a program at a Sertoma meeting should direct their inquiry to Sertoma Club of New Ulm, PO Box 692, New Ulm, MN 56073.

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