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J.D. Simons Community Volunteer: Troy Knutson

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  As one of the nominations put it — “Troy is Colfax.”

Troy Knutson received the very first J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award at the dedication of the J.D. Simons Memorial Park August 6 for the Colfax Founder’s Day Main Street Block Party.

Knutson is widely recognized by area residents as the historian of Colfax.

The J.D. Simons Award is sponsored by the Colfax Commercial Club to recognize people who have made outstanding contributions to the community.

The Commercial Club plans to make the J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award an annual event to coincide with the Colfax Founder’s Day Main Street Block Party.

One of Knutson’s most visible contributions to archiving the history of Colfax was the publication of “Looking Through the Lens” for the Colfax Sesquicentennial in 2014.

Knutson’s book is a 700-page pictorial history of Colfax based on his collection of photographs and Colfax memorabilia compiled over the past 20 years or more.

J.D. Simons is credited with being the founder of Colfax, and his first cabin was located somewhere along Eighteen Mile Creek.

The Colfax Commercial Club received three nominations for Knutson from three individuals for the J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award.

According to one of the nominations, “Troy is a devoted, life-long community member of Colfax, Wisconsin. He is a custodian at the Colfax Elementary school, but also is an avid volunteer at as many school activities as he can attend. He has played a role in field trips, Veteran’s Day services, PBIS reward days, track and field days, concerts, plays and as an emergency contact when he is not working for the school district. Troy has fulfilled many roles on these occasions, whether it was as a photographer, videographer, chaperon, parent volunteer, clean-up crew, set-up crew or number one fan. He spends his breaks from work watching Colfax High School sports and is an avid fan having attended state tournaments cheering on the Vikings.”

Knutson also has worked tirelessly on restoration efforts for the Colfax Municipal Building, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The nomination goes on to say, “As a member of the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group, he has played many roles from arranging activities, working to maintain the Municipal Building, president of the group, fundraising and communication to keep the building a prominent part of the Village of Colfax. He was even married on stage in the Municipal Building, that is how important that piece of Colfax property is to him.”

The nomination notes that Knutson also enjoys visiting residents at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center.

“He loves to visit residents of the nursing home, listening intently and learning their stories to document in order to preserve the important history of Colfax. Troy is a member of Colfax Lutheran Church and has served as usher, greeter and vacation Bible school and Sunday school volunteer. He spent 18 months writing a Colfax history book and publishing it himself in order to preserve the story of Colfax, which has been his greatest passion since he was a sophomore in high school,” according to the nomination.

Knutson also loves to share his knowledge of Colfax.

“When the third graders study Colfax history, he presents to them and this year took them on a walking tour of the village to allow them to take pictures of their hometown so they could learn to appreciate preserving memories and history. It was also Troy’s idea to be sure that J.D. Simons was properly commemorated and created the fund to put a marker for J.D. at (Hill Grove) Cemetery, restore the family stone and inscribe it with the impact that J.D. had on this community and contacted family members to be present when the stone was unveiled. Troy feels a kindred connection to J.D. Simons.”

In addition to Knutson’s work with CMBRG, he also served on the Colfax Tornado Commemoration Committee (2008) and the Colfax All-School Reunion Committee (2010).

According to a second nomination for Knutson, “Troy is a native of Colfax and has so much knowledge about the history of our town. I work at the school in the high school office and receive phone calls asking about information in the past, and if we cannot answer their questions, we can always count on Troy to help.”

“Troy Knutson single handedly raised enough money to ensure J.D. Simons’ gravesite had a proper marker. Not sure anyone else in the community would have taken this on. I believe J.D. Simons would be proud to offer this award to Troy,” said the third nomination.

“I’ve worked with Troy at the School District of Colfax for 7 ½ years. Troy is a hard-working individual with a zest for life. It’s a pleasure to know him, and I admire his dedication to our community. Colfax residents seek Troy out whenever they have a question about its history,” the third nomination states.

Other nominees

Four other individuals also were nominated for the J.D. Simons Award: Geri and Ernie Bates; Chris Olson; and Mona Thorson.

According to the Bates’ nomination, “Geri and Ernie Bates work as a husband and wife team in the three free food opportunities for the Colfax area. These food opportunities are the Colfax Community Cares monthly food pantry, the Support for Sunday backpack food program, and the Caring Ministries Emergency Food Pantry. Between the combined work of Ernie and Geri, food is ordered, it is sorted and shelved, and they rotate the food stock so that none expire.”

Geri and Ernie Bates are active members of Colfax United Methodist Church. Prior to their retirement, Ernie farmed, and Geri was the secretary at Colfax Elementary.

In response to the question, “what sets this individual apart,” the nomination reads, “their humble and unselfish dedication to the Colfax pantries. They do what is needed not for public praise or recognition, they do it because it is the right way to live and care for your neighbor.”

The nomination goes on to say, “as to the hours Geri and Ernie Bates give, I do not know. What I do know is that these hours are many, and they are freely given. During the school year, Geri works with Feed My People out of Eau Claire to order food for the Support for Sunday backpack program. She plans the weekly menu, working with the parameters of the program and has things ready for the volunteers to pack and take to the school on Fridays. Ernie meets the truck to unload and shelve what has been ordered. During the 2015-2016 school year, there were 32 food packets distributed weekly.”

The nomination goes on to say that Geri also works with Feed My People in ordering food for the monthly food pantry (Colfax Community Cares) and that Ernie is the lead person for unloading the food order. The number of families served by the Colfax Community Cares food pantry is 45 to 60 monthly.

Olson

Chris Olson was nominated for the J.D. Simons Community Volunteer as well.

“Chris Olson has volunteered his time and talents with sound and video for many years. He has spent time at the free fair, barbershop shows, school plays, school concerts and village events, just to name a few. He has always been prompt and polite to others.”

The nomination states that Olson has been at his “trade” for 40 years or more and “he cares deeply about his volunteerism.”

“Chris Olson has been a part of raising many dollars for the free fair, Barbershoppers (Dunn County), talent shows, Colfax Lutheran youth group (camp fees), and band and choir fund-raisers,” the nomination states.

Thorson

The last nomination (but not the least; they are listed here in alphabetical order) was Mona Thorson.

“Mona is involved with many Colfax community organizations. She is very dedicated to Colfax. She has volunteered many hours to these organizations. She has a been a member of the Colfax Woman’s Club for 40 years, has helped with their activities and was co-president of the club for 10 years. She has been in charge of many of our activities. She is a member of the (Colfax) Commercial Club. She is a member of the Restoration Group (CMBRG) and helps with many of their fundraisers. She volunteers at her church, Colfax Lutheran. She is the president of the Ladies Aid there, heads up fundraisers such as ‘Junk for Jesus’ and the Fall Bazaar, and many other activities at the church. She volunteers each week at the Grapevine Senior Center. She is a member of the Red Cedar Sounds Sweet Adeline’s group and helps with all of their fund raisers. Mona also volunteers to help some of our area seniors with cleaning and transportation and is a member of the Merry Mixers. She also organizes a craft and lefse sale for them and is vice-president of that organization. In addition to being in all these organizations, she has also served on many village committees such as the area nursing home fundraising committee and the celebration of 150-year anniversary of Colfax.”

In addition, “Mona grew up in Colfax, graduating from high school here and marrying her high school sweetheart … Mona and her husband still live in the village. Mona is very connected to her extended family. She has had various jobs in the area, including working for a Colfax doctor, janitor of the Colfax Lutheran Church for 13 years, working at the school, cleaning for the elderly and had the sole responsibility of caring for her parents when they needed her help. Two of the most important volunteer experiences that Mona remembers are helping with the 50th anniversary of the 1958 tornado and the All School Reunion. Mona reported to me that she would not want to live anywhere else!”