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A healthy dose of surprise: Leise selected as Kiwanis Neighbor

Michelle Leise (right) reacts to teasing after being named Red Wing Neighbor 2012 as mother Kathy Kenyon and daughter Elise Leise listen during Thursday's Noontime Kiwanis meeting.1 / 2
Art Kenyon, center, Red Wing Neighbor 2009, applauds as daughter Michelle Leise reacts to speeches during Thursday's Noontime Kiwanis meeting. Leise's selection makes them the first two-generation recipients of the award.2 / 2

Michelle Leise arrived early to Noontime Kiwanis, to no one's surprise who knows her.

She tends to over-prepare when speaking about her passions -- Live Healthy Red Wing, Kids Hunger Free Network, Red Wing App, Friends of the Bluffs, Food Rescue at the high school and more. Friends and family said she'll dodge the spotlight, if she can, by putting others at the microphone.

On Thursday, she had City Planner Brian Peterson and Friends of the Bluff member Chap Achen in tow. They spent time setting up a PowerPoint presentation they knew no one would hear. The two men were in on the surprise: Kiwanis was naming Leise the 2012 Red Wing Neighbor.

Leise was speechless, something she later joked friends would call "a first."

"Everybody that I work with does exactly what -- or more than what -- I do," she said in accepting her plaque. "I really feel strange kind of, getting this award."

Pam Horlitz nominated Leise. Reading through a list of civic activities, Horlitz noted that the mother of three demonstrates the Kiwanis mission of serving children and she lives its core values.

"Michelle can step back, question the work being done, the money being spent, the changes being made and continually ask questions while maintaining respect for everyone at the table. She is bold and respectful as she shares her perspective," Horlitz said.

The part-time coordinator of Live Healthy Red Wing puts in many hours beyond what she's paid for, Horlitz noted. For example, Leise has become a driving force in the restoration of Memorial Park and its upper and lower quarries, and can be found there evenings and weekends.

Suzanne Blue of the Red Wing Area Fund agreed.

"There seems to always be pressure from professional planning to improve in trendy ways and to the max of possible expenditures," Blue wrote in a statement read aloud. "Her practice of on-going evaluation and sense of the intrinsic character of our quarries has helped most significantly in helping us rebuild in a better and specific way for Red Wing."

Leise's hands-on work helped Red Wing receive a Minnesota Legacy grant of $390,000 to continue the work. Plus, Red Wing High School FFA made Leise an honorable member after she organized work for more than 300 youths at the community's various bluffs and parks on Earth Day 2012.

"When they go out and clean the buckthorn from the trails, then the bluff becomes theirs," Hortlitz said. "She's building sustainability."

Scott and Anne Jones, the 2011 Red Wing Neighbor recipients, were among those who joined the celebratory luncheon. They thanked her for serving on the Jones Family Foundation for eight years, but especially for helping the foundation aid people who might fall through the cracks.

"She's a leader, she's engaged in the community," he said.

When it was her turn to talk, Leise deferred to the club, legacy and foundation members in the room -- those people who make Red Wing the place where she and husband Jim choose to raise their family.

"This community has a lot to offer and I am thankful every day," Leise said.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

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