Horace Hume Outstanding Service Award winner

Steve Lauer, left, accepts the Hume Outstanding Service Award from Jenn Masini, Chair of the Board of the Mendota Area Chamber of Commerce. (Photo contributed)

Re-Imagine Mendota volunteer now can't imagine not being involved in community service

MENDOTA – Steve Lauer was chosen as the winner of the 2021 Horace Hume Outstanding Service Award by the Mendota Area Chamber of Commerce. The announcement was made during the Chamber’s annual dinner held at the Mendota Civic Center on Nov. 5.

Each year the name of the recipient is kept secret until finally revealed at the dinner. Lauer was asked to attend the dinner to give a speech about Re-Imagine Mendota, the downtown revitalization group he has been very active with. Lauer agreed and brought along his wife, Kim, who unbeknownst to him was in on the secret.

“So, I gave the speech and I thought my night was over – it was very shocking when they announced my name,” Lauer said.

A Mendota native, Lauer graduated from Mendota High School and after going away to college, returned to his hometown. Lauer, who is a very active member of the Mendota Garden Club as well as Re-Imagine Mendota, said his interest in volunteer work started about 10 years ago. Prior to that time, he had no real experience with community service and wondered why people take the time to volunteer.

“It wasn’t in my nature to do volunteer work but once I started, I understood how rewarding and fun it actually is,” he said.

Even though he did not get involved in volunteer work early on, he did recall some memorable role models that he had noticed through the years.

“One in particular was Stymie Schmidt,” Lauer said. “It seemed like he volunteered for everything and was always doing something. And there are still a lot of good role models in Mendota – too many names to mention – as well as all the work the Chamber does. I had no idea what they did for the community.”

Lauer also took notice of the beautification work done by Jim Armstrong of the Mendota Garden Club. He recalled driving past Casey’s all the time and seeing Armstrong working by himself planting flowers in the triangle.

“He was in his 90s at the time, so I decided to stop and help him,” Lauer explained. “I wasn’t much of a flower gardener but it added to the beautification of the town and it looked really nice. Jim told me about the Garden Club and said I should come to a meeting, so eventually I did. That was about 10 years ago.”

Lauer’s work with Re-Imagine Mendota started about three years ago. The organization, which began as the Illinois Avenue Project, was spearheaded by Bill Hunt and focused on the beautification of Illinois Avenue downtown. The name was changed to Re-Imagine Mendota to reflect a larger scope of community involvement and people coming together.

Although the pandemic slowed down gatherings in 2020, Lauer said Re-Imagine Mendota has sponsored some events this year including the most recent one, which took place in October.

“We’re trying to hold various street festivals with food and music for people to have a fun time downtown and to raise some money to beautify the street,” Lauer noted. “I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished so far despite the pandemic and I feel we’ve been very successful.”

Lauer said last month’s crowd was somewhat smaller than hoped because of a high school football game that night, but he expects next year to be much better overall.

“There were about 200 people at the event and people said they had a fun time, so I’m very happy with what we had,” he added.

While Lauer looks forward to continuing his community involvement, his main focus now is on family. This includes his wife of 10 years, Kim, and their two little boys, Oliver, 2, and Cooper, 1.

Although he brought Kim along to the dinner, Lauer had no idea that his children and other family members were also waiting in the wings for the announcement.

“It’s neat how they give clues. They said the person was married for 10 years, had two small boys, does gardening and I thought that sounded like me – I wonder who it is,” he laughed. “It really shocked me when they said my name. I don’t even remember what I said when they gave me the award. I just thanked everybody for considering me, and I told Shelby afterward that the award should go to spouses also!”

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