Wadena County residents receiving awards at upcoming arts celebration

The Five Wings Arts Council has selected two Wadena County residents to be recognized with the Outstanding Community Arts Leadership Awards. Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board, will present the awards to Bernie Nelson ...

Bernie Nelson
Bernie Nelson

The Five Wings Arts Council has selected two Wadena County residents to be recognized with the Outstanding Community Arts Leadership Awards.

Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board, will present the awards to Bernie Nelson (Wadena) and Lonnie Schmidt (Menahga) at the region-wide Celebration of the Arts Thursday, March 31 at Great River Arts in Little Falls.

The public is invited to attend and can get tickets online at or phone at (877) 654-2166 or by emailing .

Bernie Nelson's work with the Staples Area Men's Chorus, as well as the Five Wings Arts Council earned him recognition as the Outstanding Community Arts Leader. Nelson, who worked at Wadena High School as a counselor for 29 years, has dedicated thousands of hours to his participation in the award-winning chorus.

In addition to singing second bass in the Staples Area Men's Chorus, he has served five one-year terms as president, held other executive committee positions and was librarian for several years. He was also their first grant writer, and continues to help secure grant funds to support the work of the chorus.


Beyond his official roles, he has always advocated for SAMC, personally recruiting many new members, providing rides to the weekly rehearsals in Staples, and helping to support the chorus during extraordinarily lean times. In addition, Nelson served two terms, from 2006-2012, as the Wadena County representative on the Five Wings Arts Council, where his natural leadership ability was called upon to serve as president as well.

Nelson and his wife, Patty, have lived in Wadena since 1964, where they raised their five children. Fellow Staples Area Men's Chorus member Don Hoffman noted recently, "Bernie Nelson's quiet, humble manner belies his significant contributions to both the organization and the individual men of the Staples Area Men's Chorus. Thanks to his generosity, commitment, and leadership, the Staples Area Men's Chorus has survived difficult times and has grown into an organization that builds collegiality and camaraderie between its members while sharing high quality artistry through music with thousands of audience members each year."

Lonnie Schmidt retired from the Menahga Public Schools in 2013, where he taught music for 34 years. His school music programs were so popular that they regularly drew standing-room only crowds. A skilled pianist, Schmidt also instructed countless numbers of aspiring Wadena County musicians with private piano lessons. His creativity has touched the lives of many people beyond his classrooms of music students.

Using his skill as a photographer and knowledge of computers, he has devoted scores of hours preserving rare and fragile photos for the Menahga County Historical Society and Museum. He is known for his generous gifts of original artwork in stained glass, as well as beautifully restored antique furniture. Schmidt is actively involved in the Menahga Lions Club, and has shared his photography skills in documenting the many projects of this service club.

Menahga area veterans also benefited from Schmidt's creativity and dedication to community, as he routinely would bring his Menahga School singers to entertain at their patriotic events and volunteer to serve veterans at annual luncheons and suppers. In collaboration with Menahga's fourth grade teacher, Schmidt started the Foster Grandparent program, performing monthly and matching elementary school students with residents at the Green Pine Acres Nursing Home, resulting in friendships that lasted a lifetime.

According to Bob and Kerry White, "Lonnie is so deserving of this award. He has spent his whole life sharing his talents with others, building appreciation of the arts in his students and community, and always stretching himself to learn more and share his creativity with others."

Five Wings Arts Council will present additional awards at the event.

Kent Scheer, Wadena, has designed and hand-crafted the one-of-a-kind custom designed and hand crafted the brass, aluminum, and copper livery collar-style Gilded Feather Master Artist Award. Delina White, Walker, has crafted unique awards using her Anishinaabe-inspired fabric and bead designs. Both are active artists and recipients of grant support from Five Wings.


As one of 11 regional arts councils in Minnesota, the Five Wings Arts Council encourages and promotes arts creation, appreciation, and education through grant programs and technical assistance to enhance the quality of life for Minnesota residents in Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena Counties.

For further information, visit . email or call (877) 654-2166.

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