By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Howard Lake’s good neighbor Denny Frey was chosen as WCCO radio’s Good Neighbor July 12. Denny also received the Minneapolis Aquatennial commodore’s award during Howard Lake’s Good Neighbor Day’s coronation.
Denny was recognized at both occasions for being the good neighbor he has been while living in Howard Lake since 1970, volunteering for many organizations and being a community leader.
“I always have. It’s the way I was brought up,” said Denny when asked why he volunteers. “Doing things for other people helping other people I’ve always done it.”
It was a matter of coincidence that Denny and his wife, Rhonda, moved to Howard Lake in 1970 they could have ended up in Watertown.
The young couple had purchased a mobile home, and the company they purchased it from would only place it in the Watertown mobile home park, or in Howard Lake’s.
Since Howard Lake’s mobile home park was newer, the Freys decided to move here.
At first, the newlyweds who moved here from Bloomington hated their new surroundings. “You couldn’t buy a loaf of bread on Sundays,” Rhonda said.
Both worked in the Twin Cities Denny at Tonka Toys and Rhonda for Northwest Airlines and commuted to work in one car.
However, after having two children and realizing the mobile home was too small, Denny asked Rhonda if she wanted to move back to the Twin Cities area.
She had decided she kind of liked Howard Lake, and the Freys bought a home there just west of the high school.
Firefighter and EMT
“What really got me connected in this town was the fire department,” Denny said about feeling like he was a part of the community.
It was shortly after their new home was purchased that Denny was elected to the fire department, partly because he worked second shift and was in Howard Lake during the day.
He served as a volunteer firefighter and an emergency medical technician (EMT) for 20 years, holding the secretary position for the ambulance service and various leadership positions in the fire department.
Rhonda noted many of Howard Lake’s firefighters became their family and friends.
Denny became an EMT at a time when the service was just beginning in Minnesota, and noted the Howard Lake EMTs were trained by Murphy Ambulance from St. Cloud.
Those first Howard Lake EMTs taught first aid at Dura Supreme, and Denny also remembers training Jim Erickson and Louise Weber of the Cokato Ambulance Service.
Denny also served on the Howard Lake City Council in 1976 with Mayor Welton Zander.
Where Denny grew up in northwestern South Dakota, baseball was everything and he started playing when he was nine.
Although Denny did not have sons to play baseball in Howard Lake, as a member of the American Legion, he became involved in coaching legion baseball.
It was important to Denny that the boys playing baseball learned respect, patriotism, and good sportsmanship, he said.
Denny also led the Wright County league for legion baseball for eight years.
At this time, Denny manages the business side of legion baseball, finding coaches, registering players, providing uniforms, facilitating meetings, and providing Gatorade during games.
Not only has Denny coordinated the legion’s baseball program for years, he has also served as a member of the Honor Guard, and calls bingo Sunday afternoons.
He has held the leadership positions of commander and adjutant with the legion, as well.
Being a big brother
Another volunteer opportunity Denny took advantage of was becoming a Big Brother in Wright County.
Although they should not have been matched due to different interests, Denny was matched as a big brother to Jim Woitalla of Waverly.
Woitalla was 11 at the time, and liked doing things such as hunting and fishing. Denny was more into baseball and other sports. However, the relationship worked, and the families are still very close today.
In fact, Denny managed to instill a sense of civic duty in Woitalla, whose family was named volunteers of the year for this year’s Waverly Daze.
Woitalla and his family organize a day of fishing every year for children at Humphrey Elementary School.
Other volunteer work
Denny is an active member of St. James Lutheran Church. He has served as an elder, and still ushers and serves on the church board.
He has also been an active volunteer in planning the annual Good Neighbor Days celebrations.
Denny has also been an active family man, watching his own children, and now grandchildren, play sports.
His daughter, Stacey Smida, and her husband, Don, have two children Kristen, 18, and Taylor, 15 who are involved in volleyball, basketball, and softball.
His other daughter, Laura Frey, has two children Kyle Driver, 11, and Bree Driver, 6. Kyle plays football, wrestles, and is also in baseball. Bree is in t-ball.
“I’m glad my grandkids are growing up in a small town around here it makes it kind of nice,” Denny said.