Grandmas save beach

Ladies take action, revive Lake Charlotte Beach.

Turn east on the south edge of Long Prairie and follow the road as it curves around Lake Charlotte. A bright splash of orange daylilies waves as you pass by in its season. A boat landing might tempt you if your heart yearns for fishing but stay with the chosen path and it will lead you to a nice little swimming beach enjoyed by thousands over several generations. Everyone calls it Lake Charlotte Beach; it has no fancy name. In recent years with a flagging economy, the beach lost favor with local funders. No, there was no money for lifeguards as there had been for many years. There would be only two short weeks of swimming lessons because there were limited funds for swimming instructors. No, there was no money to control the rowdy behavior, for new docks, paint for the beach house, maintenance of the changing rooms. Picture the child, sand bucket and shovel in hand, with no assurance of being able to practice swim strokes on a safe, supervised beach. A Dickensian dimness hung over what once had been a sanguine summer site. That is, until the Grandmas for the Beach set about setting it to rights. “We made people aware that the beach was not functioning as it should,” said Pat Gray who along with June Elmes and Alice Siegle comprise Grandmas for the Beach. All three women had taken their children to the Lake Charlotte beach for summer outings as well as for the opportunity to progress from guppies to sharks, some adding skills well beyond the dog paddle and crawl stroke. They gained the skills to become lifeguards. Pat, who had moved to Long Prairie in 1957 had even put time and energy into serving on the park board to assure continuing beach supervision.     But that was more than 40 years ago and times change. Pat, June and Alice knew those great summer memories would only be something to reminisce over if someone didn’t do something. June’s daughter Sue was on the park board. She encouraged the grandmas to do something. Over cups of coffee at the local second-hand shop, the three women, who range in age from 70 to 85, brainstormed and came up with a plan. “The park board said if we raised $2,500 they would hire beach supervisors,” said June. The three women approached community organizations and sent out 100 letters explaining the problem and asking for donations. They also paid for three T-shirts boldly proclaiming “Grandmas for the Beach.” The T-shirts made the project real and looked great in photos when the local newspaper caught wind of the project. Money started drifting in. Other grandparents who valued their time at the beach sent in five-dollar bills, tens and twenties. Ten people pledged $100 each under the umbrella of the “Grandmas $1,000 Club.” Then the Lion’s Club, which maintains the adjacent park and play area, donated $1,000. Several Long Prairie businesses and organizations donated $500. When all was said and done, enough money had been donated to pay for beach supervision from 1-7 p.m. during the peak six weeks of summer 2011. Signs proclaiming beach rules in English and Spanish were installed and the beach house, bathrooms and picnic tables were painted. The three grandmas cleaned out the detritus that had accumulated in the beach house from former summers, making it useable once again. The park board and city took notice of the improvements. For several years, much of the city’s recreational funds had been earmarked for new softball fields. With that project completed and the beach project gaining attention, this year the city installed three new docks and blacktopped a third of the bike path which leads to the beach. The grandmas pushed on and were awarded a $5,000 CentraCare Health Foundation Community Award which helped pay for lifeguards as well as beach supervisors this summer. Once again, guppies and sharks practiced their paddling under the watchful eyes of instructors hired through the local school’s summer recreation program. Pat, June and Alice feel a little embarrassed at how many times their photos have been in the newspapers, most recently receiving a donation from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. But they should be proud of finding a solution to a local problem. Part of their success came from the application of their individual talents. They approached the problem in an organized fashion with well thought-out proposals stating the rationale, defining the problem and proposing the solution. They determined the cost of beach supervisors, considered liability issues, proposed an entrepreneurship project with the local school in running a snack bar at the beach, developed the fundraising campaign and worked with the park board to determine the procedures for hiring and problem solving. “It was very rewarding,” said June who now serves on the park board. “It taught us we could do something,” said Alice, expressing the empowerment that action engenders. In their application to the CentraCare Foundation, the women stated, “This has been an excellent experience for senior citizens working with local government and gathering support from townspeople for a project we all want.” The trio isn’t planning to take on other projects next year. “But we will be out here with our grandkids,” they agreed, sitting on a freshly painted picnic table under a shelter next to a clean beach and the gently rolling waves of Lake Charlotte.

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