By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Dr. James (Jim) and Mary Neff, known for their dedication to the Winsted community, in addition to giving the world a whiter, brighter smile through their Winsted Gentle Dental Care, have been chosen as the grand marshals of the 2010 Winsted Winter Festival Christmas parade by the chamber of commerce board of directors.
“The Neffs are two individuals who have, time and again, demonstrated their support of local community, civic, school, and church organizations,” Tom Ollig, president of the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce, said of the Neffs. “They are respected business and community leaders, and because of their many contributions, have made Winsted a better place to live.”
The Neffs’ sense of pride and ownership of Winsted is evident when they talk about the town where they first met, eventually married, and where they have made their home.
“It’s the people,” Jim said. If you look at the original industry here, it was started by local people who have this entrepreneur’s heart. When you work with people who are excited about helping the community and seeing it grow and improve, people who love the community, it’s catching and exciting to be a part of.”
The couple, who are both originally from Wisconsin, moved to Winsted at different times, for different reasons, but Mary is sure “the Almighty Father had a master plan.”
Jim’s move to Winsted was many years before Mary’s and involved researching 50 different communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota before choosing Winsted.
He and his first wife, Norma, who died from cancer just before their 28th wedding anniversary in November 1997, actually began their research almost a year before deciding on Winsted.
Jim was a dentist in the Air Force in Washington state and was looking for a place to set up his practice when his tour of duty ended in 1974.
Norma was originally from Parkers Prairie, and Jim was from the Eau Claire area, and they wanted to establish his practice somewhere in between those two areas.
“We had a list of things we were looking for, such as churches, schools, medical facilities, recreational opportunities, economic stability in the area, and others,” Jim said.
Eventually, they decided on 10 communities that they liked the most and had the qualities they were looking for.
Don Westrup had been Jim’s contact person for Winsted, and for Jim’s first visit to town, he introduced the Neffs to people like Barney Kappel, Ralph Rathmanner, Ben Weinbeck, Floyd and JoAnn Sneer, Don Guggemos, as well as others.
“People who loved Winsted,” Jim said. “We were impressed with the people, their friendliness, their pride in Winsted, as well as the opportunity we saw for us if we moved here,” Jim said.
The decision to make his home in Winsted was an easy one for Jim, who said, “I loved the community and it felt like home to me.”
After their move to Winsted, Jim immediately became involved in the community.
He served on the Civic & Commerce (now the chamber) in various capacities. He was also on St. Mary’s medical staff, and eventually its board of directors, which helped to recruit several physicians to town. He was on the board for Linden Wood to get it built, involved at St. John’s Lutheran Church, and was an instructor and director of the Winsted Karate Club.
He is a member of the Winsted Lake Association and is on the lake association’s board of directors. He is also part of the team that helped start Harvest Community Church.
“Winsted is a progressive community; it doesn’t just talk about things, it works on doing things,” Jim said.
“There are many groups in Winsted that we are not a part of who have the same exciting attitude, and it rubs off on others,” Jim said.
“Mary has that same type of spirit,” Jim said.
Originally from Madison, WI, Mary moved to Winsted in 1994, to manage the Winsted Telephone Company which had been sold to TDS Telecom. The telephone company was originally owned and managed by the John Ollig family.
“I actually came to Winsted before I moved here because I was working for TDS in human resources,” Mary said. “I would show them how TDS does payroll, time sheets, benefits. I was out here a year before I ever took the position, because the Olligs were still managing the company,” Mary said.
When the Olligs were ready to retire, Mary moved to Winsted and took over managing the company. Just like Jim, she began to serve the community in various capacities.
She served as vice president of the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce, and then later as its president. She was on the library board and the Linden Wood Board for several years, and she was part of the committee that invited the Design Team to visit Winsted.
Because of a suggestion made by the Design Team for a leadership development plan, leadership training came to Winsted in the form of the Blandin Foundation.
Mary was one of 24 people in Winsted chosen to be part of the Blandin Foundation’s community leadership program in Oct. 2007.
She was an original member of the arts task force team responsible for bringing an arts council to Winsted.
Today, she is the arts council president.
But, in 1997, Mary began to consider returning home to Wisconsin. When the chamber asked her to continue as its president, she didn’t know what to tell them.
“My husband had left me the year before, and I felt maybe I should return to Madison,” Mary said.
But, when Mary told her son, Sidney (Sid) Stamm, a junior in high school at Dassel Cokato, that she wanted to move back to Madison, he very respectfully told her, “I understand, Mom, but I am going to stay here and finish high school at DC.”
Once Sid had made his decision, Mary knew she wouldn’t leave her son, and made the decision to stay, as well.
Mary told the chamber she would continue as its president if there was a strong vice president to help.
Because Jim had served on the chamber before as its president, he was the perfect choice. Although he had recently lost his wife, he accepted the nomination as vice president.
“The way I handled grief was to keep busy,” Jim said.
The couple had met on a number of occasions before, while both were married to others Jim was Mary’s dentist, he was her instructor when she joined karate for awhile, and he had attended many chamber meetings in the past when she was vice president and president.
Mary described Jim as a quiet man at the chamber meetings who, “Every once in a while he would add a really important point, so I knew he was paying attention and taking it seriously,” Mary said.
With Mary as president and Jim as vice president, they tackled many successful projects together as a team.
They married April 24, 1999.
Jim is a dentist and owner of the Winsted Gentle Dental Care, and Mary is involved behind the scenes. There are two other dentists who work at the clinic, as well.
“He has twice as many patients as there are residents in this town,” Mary said. “The town has really helped nurture him to get him started, but it’s his hard work, the support of the community, and referrals that have built the business into a regional clinic.”
The Neffs will be honored as the grand marshals of the Winsted Winter Festival’s Christmas Lighted Parade, at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 4.
Jim and Mary have four children:
• Carla (Neff) is married to Chris Heino and they live in Oak Grove.
• Patricia (Neff) is married to David Kendrick and they live in Edina.
• Brian Neff is living in Minneapolis.
• Sidney Stamm is married to Rebecca and he lives in Santa Clara CA.
The couple has five grandchildren.