WINSTED, MN Warm-hearted, outgoing, and cheerful, Bonnie Schmidt of Winsted represents the best of ‘Minnesota Nice.’ She is an active volunteer with several organizations in the community, including Meals on Wheels, Friends in the Kitchen, and her church, St. John’s Lutheran.
A lifelong Minnesotan, born and raised in Wood Lake in the southwest corner of the state, Bonnie is passionate about neighborliness and community spirit.
When her husband, Keith’s job brought the couple to the Twin Cities, they settled in Winsted in 1970, where they raised three children.
Over the years, Bonnie worked several jobs in the community, eventually, retiring at age 62. Although health concerns necessitated her retirement, as Bonnie said, “Something wasn’t right. I needed to do something. Sitting home wasn’t much of an accomplishment, and I started going back to church at 62,” which led to much of her volunteerism, especially her work with the community meal.
As one of its founders, Winsted’s monthly community meal is particularly important to Bonnie.
“As I got more involved in [St. John’s Lutheran] church, the pastor, Pastor [Mark] Loder, at that time, approached me one day and asked me if I would go with him and a couple of parishioners over to Watertown, because they had what’s called a community meal there. He said, ‘I’d like you to go with me and observe what you think.’
“So, I went. You know, so many times when we go as groups, we think we have to sit together, can’t mingle. Well, I made up my mind when I got in there, I was going to reach out to other folks. And I sat with this wonderful, 90-some year-old lady. It was just wonderful! It’s so amazing how the Lord works, because it turned out that she was from the area where I was born and raised ... It’s so intriguing to hear from older folks about how their lives went, what they did, where they were.
“We were just visiting, and, I don’t know, something just inspired me. So, on the way home, Pastor Loder said, ‘What do you think?’
“I said, ‘My heart’s on fire! Let’s go for it! If it works, it works. If it don’t, it don’t.’ So, we put that [community meal] together.
“Bill Pearson is our cook. Without him, honestly, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s the fourth Thursday of every month from 5:30 until 7 p.m., except for November and December.
“It’s just amazing how the Lord works. Without Him, it wouldn’t be possible, that’s for sure. We have a good group every month. Our numbers have been good.
“When we started this, we weren’t anticipating any money, but after a couple times, people were complaining that we didn’t have a donation box. So, we did put a donation box out. It’s wonderful now because every meal pretty much pays for itself. Plus, we have some private parties who do give donations from the community. We have also gotten permission from St. Mary’s to use their bus, because I wanted people from Linden Wood [senior living community] to have access if they wanted to go.
“It is so special, because we have people coming from all over. We have gotten so many comments from people that they so appreciate it. It gets them out of the house, and they can come down and visit. Reaching out to one another is always a good thing. It’s a good thing.
“When people ask me what they can do, my comment to them is ‘Come down and join us for the meal. Observe what’s going on. If there’s something you feel comfortable with [doing], you can. You don’t need to call anybody. You don’t have to set a time. We work from about 3 o’clock to 7 or 7:30 ... You can come anytime during that time. We can always find something for you to do. And if not, you can just fellowship. That’s important, too.’”
Bonnie volunteers each Wednesday with Meals on Wheels. She has special affection for the senior citizens she serves, “I love them. I’ve always enjoyed being around elderly people. I have so much fun with them. They are just important people.
“While I was doing Meals on Wheels, I was noticing a lot of people needed help with different things, so I kind of put myself out there. I put my phone number up on their [Meals on Wheels] bulletin board, ‘If you need something, please call me.’ So, they’ve been doing that! I take them to doctor’s appointments or shopping. Take them to Hutchinson or Glencoe, if they need to get there. Whatever their needs are, even if they just need to have a talk.”
She also works with Friends in the Kitchen, a program of cooking and nutrition classes for people age 55 and older which uses the facilities at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Bonnie downplays her contribution to the program, “I can’t say I do a whole lot. Basically, I show up to make sure that they can get in the church. Once in a while, they do need a helper. I did tell them, if they do, if one of them can’t be there, I would be willing to help them out. I said, ‘I ain’t doing the cooking, but I can do the scrubbing and the peeling, or that kind of stuff. Or just set up chairs’...Yeah, I help them out. It’s a lot of fun.”
For Bonnie, the benefits of volunteering are beyond measure. “You get a lot of love, a lot of appreciation of what you’re doing. You make friends. You’re there for each other. I’m a big hugger. Watch out! I’m a big hugger ... It’s hard to put that into words. My heart sometimes just aches because I’m so glad to see people who want to reach out ...
“For my neighbors, once in a while, I’ll bake treats and take them over. Neighbors don’t tend to be in contact anymore. You know, years ago, you knew everybody in the neighborhood. The women would have their coffee, but you don’t see that anymore. A lot our neighbors are young ones; they are all working. I feel especially they are the ones we need to reach.
“So, there was a time when I made like a hundred pies, apple pies, every summer. I would walk around the neighborhood, and I just gave them away. That was my way of getting my foot in the door to get to know them.
“How are you going to get to know your neighbors, if you don’t interact with them? I think that’s very important, whether it’s at your church, or in your neighborhood, or in your community.
“I’d like to do more. My other vision is I would like to go to all the businesses in town and show some type of appreciation for their service. I have not yet come up with the right idea, but I’m hoping, in time ... I like to bake. I thought maybe I could make some goodies, like some blueberry muffins, to take in and tell them, ‘Thank you. Here’s a treat for you.’ I don’t know. That’s kind of a goal I’ve got set. I just haven’t figured it out yet. Because I think we need to recognize each other, those who do some of the good. Not just people like me. There’s a lot of people out there who need to be recognized.”
Clearly, this 70-year-old dynamo of generosity and community spirit shows no sign of slowing down. Instead, she issues a challenge to other Minnesotans, “I like to see people just pitch in and do what they can ... I would like to see some young people [get involved], because I’m not going to be doing this forever. I think it is so important ... That’s my story.”