Photos by Barbie Porter
Ian McKay used a lift to reach the top of the building on Main Avenue with an electric sander. The surface needed to be scuffed for the paint on the pending mural to grip to the surface of the canvas. McKay is one of several members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. that came to town for service projects. 

Remodeling project underway at CornerStone

By Barbie Porter


rat boys from Omaha, Neb. descended upon the Frazee area last week and did a world of good. With plenty of elbow grease, the young men from Beta Theta Pi tackled service projects for individuals and organizations.

In Frazee, the CornerStone group was a beneficiary of their donated services. The young men also assisted a family in Audubon, Minn. and volunteered at the food bank in Fargo, N.D. 

The blessings to the area communities all started when Davis Sunderland and Ian McKay shared what lake life is like with their frat brothers at Creighton University. 

Sunderland said the frat aims to provide week-long volunteer service in the areas from where the frat brothers call home. The two Fargo, N.D. natives suggested the service projects be in lake country this summer, and offered lodging at family cabins. McKay’s family has a cabin on Big Toad and Sunderland’s family has a cabin on Detroit Lake.

“I think we sold it,” Sunderland said. “Usually five-to-seven go and this year was the biggest one yet. We had 14 total who came to volunteer. Some were able to stay for a few days, some the entire time.”  

Finding volunteer locations was the responsibility of Garrett  Coester. The 20-year-old is the fraternity’s community service executive director. He called the Boys and Girls Club in Detroit Lakes, told them about the frat’s mission, and was given Karen Pifher’s name and contact number. 

Pifher is on the board of directors for CornerStone. CornerStone has the mission of providing a youth center in Frazee with a bistro in the basement and aims to offer learning opportunities and activities for the youth. The idea started a few years back and gained traction when the United Methodist Church sold its building to the group for $500.  (The church is building a new house of worship in the city.)

Last year, the building exchanged hands and the CornerStone group began the demolition process to strip the structure to the studs for a major renovation and remodel. Then, COVID-19 shut down group volunteer opportunities and made finding professionals needed for electric, plumbing and other specialties difficult. 

When the opportunity for volunteer manual labor called her direct, Pifher suggested unfinished demolition work at CornerStone.

Coester said all the service projects the fraternity did were enjoyable, from splitting wood to helping at food bank, but the demolition project was “the most fun.” 

“We pulled out the carpet, ripped down the ceiling, pulled paneling off the wall, removed the island and are about to tackle the bathroom,” he said. 

Garrett Coester and Jack Maynard of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. were one of many that helped with the demolition process at the CornerStone youth center.

“The projects where you can see a tangible difference with a little elbow grease are fun,” McKay added.

Joining the fraternity was CornerStone Executive Director Tracy Neusser and her daughter Olivia Clark Burnette. The Detroit Lakes residents helped with another CornerStone project on Main Avenue.

Frazee resident Tom Watson invited the group to paint a mural on the side of a commercial building near the duck pond by city hall. Boards were installed for the mural, but before painting could begin, the surface had to be scuffed up to allow the paint to adhere to the surface.

Two of the frat brothers joined Neusser and Burnette to use power sanders and sandpaper to prep the surface for painting. Neusser said she believes the mural will resemble a postcard showcasing the amenities of the city.  

Neusser noted how pleasant, helpful and hardworking the fraternity members have been during their service work in Frazee.

Fraternity member Jack Maynard said the pandemic put many of the fun service projects on hold in the past year. However, the group of about 65 frat brothers continued to provide mentorship opportunities with kids in the Omaha, Neb. area with the usage of Zoom. He said they often played games and continued the connection with the youth.

Coester, Maynard and Sunderland are earning degrees in  finance and business analytics and McKay is earning a political science and psychology degree for pre-law studies.