DASSEL-COKATO, MN Many people in the Dassel-Cokato area are familiar with Jeff Putnam. He served as mayor of Dassel for four years, on the city council for eight, and recently retired from the Dassel Volunteer Fire Department after 20 years, almost as long as he’s lived in the area.
“I joined the fire department when we’d just moved to town,” Putnam remembered.
His neighbor was on the department and asked him to join, which was great for the newcomer because “it was instantly knowing 30 guys in town.”
Now, at the end of 20 years with the department, Putnam said he feels like he’s come full circle.
Growing up in Big Lake, Putnam remembers seeing the fire department helping out at events.
“It was the same people always helping out, always working. That always kind of stuck with me,” Putnam said.
As a person who has dedicated much of his life to volunteering, Putnam emphasized just how much volunteers contribute to the community.
He said that the Dassel-Cokato community is fortunate. “We have a lot of volunteers, a lot of people who step up to things,” Putnam commented.
But that doesn’t mean volunteering is something people should take for granted.
“It’s getting harder to find volunteers,” Putnam said. “The people volunteering are my age and up not all of them, but there’s not a lot of young people coming up.”
He said a solution to that is to involve more kids in volunteer activities.
“My parents volunteered a lot. It’s important for people to show their kids what volunteering is about. A lot of organizations will allow your kids to help out, and hopefully it’ll instill something [in them] like it did in me,” Putnam said.
But what if young people still aren’t interested in pitching in?
Putnam said, “They’ve got to realize if they enjoy some of these functions [giving Red Rooster Days as an example], if they want them to continue, everybody has to pitch in. Every function that goes on involves volunteers.”
And, according to Putnam, volunteering isn’t just about getting things done. It’s about bettering the community, putting on events that give people a reason to come to town, and bringing people together to share good times.
About volunteering in Dassel, he said, “It makes it a place people want to call home.”
For people who want to volunteer but don’t know where to start, Putnam said, “There are ample opportunities to get involved. Everyone I know is reaching for members.”
Putnam said one of his favorite things about volunteering is seeing how much fun people have at volunteer-run events.
Even though he’s stepped down from the fire department, he doesn’t plan to stop volunteering anytime soon, having recently joined the Cokato-Dassel Lions Club.
“It is extra work,” he said, but “I’ve always been one to step up and help out.”