Gurtners earn Community Service Award
Long before Al or Connie Gurtner became co-owners of Ray’s Market and long before they even had children, the idea of volunteering, of giving back and working hard to make one’s community better was central to their lives.
On Saturday, that willingness and desire to help others was officially recognized as Al and Connie received the Community Service Award during the Abby-Colby Crossings Chamber of Commerce banquet.
“It’s exciting and definitely an honor,” Connie said. “Looking back over all the years, all the different community service award winners in the past, they’re all important people in the community, and it’s very humbling.”
“It’s great to be recognized,” Al said. “It means people see and appreciate what you do.”
The Gurtners are no strangers to awards. Their business, Ray’s Market, was chosen as Business of the Year by the chamber a few years ago, and Al has won numerous accolades for his food, picking up blue ribbons and awards for his meats at the state fair.
But this prize has a special significance for the two. While neither sought the spotlight, know their efforts to enrich Colby, Abbotsford and the surrounding communities has not gone unnoticed means so much to them.
“This one is personal,” Connie admitted. “It’s for all the things that you do that sometimes you wonder if people even notice.”
For those in the community, giving the Gurtners the award was something of a no-brainer.
“Connie truly has a passion for her community,” Stacey Christianson wrote on her nomination form. “Connie is a planner and problem solver. As the (city) clerk, she sees the opportunities to better the community.”
The list of what each does is long and extensive, and goes back decades. For Connie, she started to get involved in the community at a very young age. At 17, she took her first job at a bank, and from there, served as the treasurer of the Colby Chamber of Commerce from 1987-92.
Even before then, a sense of giving back was always instilled by her family — and it’s something she’s passed on to her children.
“My family has always been volunteers,” Connie said. “My mom and dad are super active in Lions and the Legion and church. I guess you just kind of learn from that.”
Connie has worked with the Cherokee Chums 4-H Club, as well as organizing Colby’s Cheese Days festivities. She’s helped coordinate the St. Louis Fall Festival in Dorchester for the last 10 years, has volunteered with the Colby truck pull for over five years and helps coach youth sports.
She does this all while being a proud co-owner of Ray’s Market, which she and Al have owned since 2007, first in Unity, and then relocating to its present home in Colby in 2009, rebuilding after a fire.
It’s that resiliency that Connie and Al credit for sustaining them during the long hours and many meetings and events spent volunteering.
“You do it because it’s important,” Al said. “You can see that it makes a difference. You see that, and it just makes you want to keep doing it.” Al is quiet about his own time as a volunteer, and often downplays his role, but as Connie says, he’s a vital cog in the community, taking part in the Colby Lions, the Abbotsford Sportsmen’s Club, and through their business, donating to a plethora of causes, from steak feeds to handing out gift certificates and offering money for scholarships.
But as his wife says, Al is often behind the scenes, helping in whatever way he can.
“Alan has always been part of this community,” Connie says “He gives back to the community in so many ways. Without him, I would not be able to do all that I do as a volunteer.”
Al helps coordinate wilderness camps in Rosholt for children with disabilities through the Lions Club in the summers, and he says giving back is something he and Connie would have done even without their business.
“The business makes it easier to help, but I think whether we were in this business or not, we’d be doing this anyway,” he said.
Others within the community have echoed their support of the Gurtners, citing them as examples for others.
“Connie is always willing to help out and volunteer in our community,” says Jessie Polivka, the city’s deputy clerk/ treasurer. “As a local business owner and the clerk/treasurer, she believes in giving back to the community by volunteering where she can and shopping local. She is always the first to encourage giving back.”
The Gurtners also shared a message for those in the community considering volunteering — do it, you won’t regret it.
“I definitely think that. There’s less and less people in the different organizations,” Connie says. “We need more people to contribute. It just makes things so much better.”