Quilts of Valor given in front of a packed Event Center

Dale Johansen of Ottertail was the keynote speaker at the Veterans Appreciation Dinner in Frazee. Johanson is the Outreach Director of Project New Hope, a Minnesota-based, non-profit, Lions initiative that provides combat veterans and their families with the education, training, and skills necessary to manage their lives after wartime service.

By Robert Williams


Area Lions from Frazee, Vergas, Wolf Lake and the 4-Corners Clubs hosted the sixth annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner Program on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the Frazee Event Center.  ¶  Emcee Dennis Brietzman of the Vergas Lions returned with his amusing collection of Armed Forces jokes, spreading his ribbing to each of the branches and creating a light-hearted mood that balanced out mutual waves of feelings from the hundreds in attendance that ebb and flow from somber to respect in a gala honoring those who prioritized country and duty over personal safety.  ¶  Dale Johansen of Ottertail was the keynote speaker and representative of Project New Hope, a Minnesota-based, non-profit, Lions initiative that provides combat veterans and their families with the education, training, and skills necessary to manage their lives after wartime service. The non-profit hosts family retreats, free of charge, with the main goal of repairing relationships.

Janelle Lotzer introduced the quilters who were in attendance to wrap veterans during the Quilts of Valor ceremony during the Veterans Appreciation Dinner at the Frazee Event Center Wednesday, Nov. 15: Pam Krieg, Mary Ann Strauch, LuAnn Carow, Barb Gerold, Crystal Johnson, Linda Johnson, Barb Gietzen, Deb Larsen and Lotzer at the podium.

Johansen has been a member of the Lions for 45 years, was a past District Governor, an Army Veteran who served in Vietnam and has been married to his wife Betty for 55 years.

Project New Hope was founded in 2007 by caring individuals who understand that for veterans and their families, wartime does not end the day that soldier comes home. The effects of serving our country in the military are often felt throughout a soldier’s entire lifetime, and can have an impact on each family member as well, often in ways that may be quite subtle or hidden from view.

Twelve of the 13 honored veterans were in attendance for the Quilts of Valor Ceremony during the 6th annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner Wednesday, Nov. 15. Front row: Tom Franklin, Bruce Hanstad, Jim G. Lindsay, Raymond Kunz. Back row: Mark Flemmer, Dennis Lerud, David Ferguson, Ed Kasowski, Donald Martinson, Robert Dickerson, Craig Olson, Jamie Crabtree. Not pictured: Jim Johnson.

Johansen has been involved with the project since 2008.

“I was at a Lions meeting and they made some comment and I shot my mouth off and got appointed to a committee,” Johansen said. “I’ve been there ever since.”

Despite opening with humor, Johansen detailed the importance of providing support for veterans returning from deployment and the equally important support needed for their family members.

“What we do is run retreats for returning veterans and their families,” he said.

The latest construction at the Vergas Veterans Memorial is the gazebo housing the Freedom Rock, which will be painted in 2024 by Iowa artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II.

Johansen gave an example from his own life and relationships.

“I was not married when I came back from Vietnam, but my wife has lived with me for years,” he said. “She took the brunt of a lot of bad things that happened. She said I should come up here screaming and yelling and throwing things, but I didn’t want to scare you half to death. Which was the way that I lived for many years.”

After beginning Project New Hope in Minnesota, the Lions initiative has expanded to New York, Massachusetts and all of the New England states, and Washington state.

As an Outreach Director, Johansen’s job is to push the scope of Project New Hope beyond the borders of Minnesota.

Johansen described what a typical retreat is like and went over an array of sessions that are presented from creative expression to anger management and sleep solutions. 

The objective of the retreats are to be low-key and offer assistance as requested by the families.

Project New Hope has six locations in Minnesota where retreats are held in Clitherall, Annandale, Eden Prairie, Maple Lake, Lake George and Sandstone.

“Ninety-five percent of the people that attend the retreat want to come back so that tells us we’re doing something right,” said Johansen.

Janelle Lotzer was next to speak during the Quilts of Valor Award Ceremony. There were 13 quilts awarded to 13 veterans, 12 of whom were in attendance.

Those veterans are: 

• Bruce Hanstad served in the Army in Vietnam from 1968-1974 in the infantry. He received a Purple Heart, and a Vietnam Service medal with two bronze stars.

• Ed Kasowski served in the Navy from 1959-1962. He was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and his duties were as a machinist third class.

• Jim G. Lindsay served in the Navy from 1968-72 serving as a Navy Corpsman as a Dispensary Medic during the Vietnam era.

• Dennis Lerud served in the Marines from 1966-70 as a Sergeant Mechanic for Military Police.

• David Ferguson served in the Air Force from 1963-67. His duties included radar systems of F101 fighter interceptors.

• Mark Flemmer served in the Army National Guard from 1975-2010 in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2007-08 as a Sgt. Major in Communications in Baghdad.

• Tom Franklin served in the Army National Guard from 1989-2009, was deployed to Desert Storm in 1991 and Iraqi Freedom in 2003 serving as a Staff Sgt. Engineer.

• Raymond Kunz served in the Army from 1969-1971 during Vietnam as a gunner, receiving a Bronze Star.

• Jamie Crabtree served in the Navy from 2001-21, had three deployments in 2003, 2005, 2007, and three deployments in New Orleans in 2012, 2014, 2016, all in the Gulf area. She received medals for good conduct, the Global War on Terrorism, Outstanding Volunteer Navy and Marine Achievement, Expert Pistol Shot, and Recruiting Gold Wreath.

• Jim Johnson served in the Army. Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony.

• Craig Olson served in the Navy from 1966-69, deployed to Naples, Italy, in Communications CYN3 and worked underground.

• Robert Dickerson served in the Navy from 1952-56 during the Korean conflict on the U.S.S. White Marsh whose mission was to blow up mines in the water. 

• Donald Martinson served in the Army from 1955-58, deployed to France and Germany in a Construction Battalion as an electrician assistant and then on to company clerk.

Lotzer also introduced the quilters: LuAnn Carow, Barb Gerold, Barb Gietzen, Linda Johnson, Crystal Johnson, Pam Krieg, Deb Larsen, Janelle Lotzer, Nancy Olson, Denise Schellenberg and Mary Ann Strauch.

“They spend lots of hours together and we have a lot of fun doing it too and from the bottom of our hearts, it means a lot,” Lotzer said.

Lotzer recited the history of the Quilts of Valor national foundation founded in 2003 prior to the awarding of the quilts to the veterans. Over 360,000 quilts have been awarded all over the world since the program’s inception.

“We honor you tonight for your service, raising your right hand and taking the oath, leaving all you held dear,” Lotzer said. “These quilts are meant to say thank you for that service, sacrifice and valor in serving our nation. These quilts are meant to offer comfort, warmth, peace and healing to the individual who receives it and for you to know that you will forever be in our hearts and prayers. We are humbled to be awarding these Quilts of Valor tonight.”

Prior to retiring the colors and closing the dinner, Veterans Memorial Committee Member John Lotzer gave an update on the Vergas Veterans Memorial, which includes a new gazebo and a 8.4-ton boulder that will be painted in 2024 by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II from Iowa.

There is a Freedom Rock in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties, including the 100th in Altoona, Iowa. Sorenson has started the 50 State Freedom Rock Tour and is now booking across the country.

The Frazee-Vergas VFW Post 7702 and Amvets presented and retired the colors.

Musical performances were provided by the Frazee-Vergas High School band playing an Armed Forces medley, along with band director Brian Selander performing “Taps” to conclude the ceremony. Former VFW District 9 soloist Sandy Rausch performed The Star-Spangled Banner.

Next year’s dinner is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Frazee Event Center.

For more information on Project New Hope visit: www.ProjectNewHope.net/

For more information on the Freedom Rock project visit: thefreedomrock.com/