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Guest Column: Board member has an attitude of giving back

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


You might have noticed that our website is under construction. It’s intentional, I promise. (I had to double check for myself.) We’re in the last stages of our planning, and soon we’ll be ready to kick off our campaign. While we fundraise all year long, our “campaign season” is typically from August through December. Albert Lea school district teachers will have the opportunity to meet Kristin and I at the “Hug Day” coming up. Isn’t that a great term? To me, the very fact that the all-district meeting is called Hug Day embodies the passion that our teachers have for education.

We’ve received great feedback from the community, and we value all of it. I want to point out that one of the unique aspects about United Way of Freeborn County is that it’s about as local as you can get. Ninety-nine percent of dollars raised in Freeborn County stays in Freeborn County. Not only do we have our local dollars staying local, but the community has a strong voice in how those dollars are spent. Donors can choose to designate what agency they want their money to go toward. Your vote steers United Way of Freeborn County in the direction that impacts our community the most. By coming to me and saying, “I have an idea for a program. What do you think?” we’re able to create innovate programming that directly responds to the needs in Freeborn County.

I’ll tell you about one board member who makes sure his voice is heard, not only at United Way of Freeborn County but everywhere else in our community. If you see a blond man running the streets of Albert Lea with a smile on his face, that’s our Nick Schiltz. For the last decade, Nick has had a goal of running 1,000 miles each year. Each year, he’s met his goal. With 13 marathons under his belt, Nick exemplifies what discipline and dedication can accomplish.

Nick is about setting goals and about his community. Nick’s community includes Freeborn County, where he grew up and where his father still farms. Nick rides the same horse that he rode as a child, helping his father bale hay and sharing the joy of farming. He celebrates his mother, a teacher for the last 43 years. The family bond is obviously close, as evident by his father running in the Med City marathon with Nick, and family outings to rock concerts.

Following in his parent’s footsteps, Nick is an agriculture instructor at Riverland Community College. He takes his love of teaching beyond the classroom by being involved with Ag Safety Day, leading students on community service projects, and standing ready to cheer them on as they walk across the stage.

Running, education and agriculture is still not enough for Nick, though. Nick pursued the challenging life of being an on-call firefighter for the Albert Lea Fire Department in 2017. He’s passionate about fire service. When one of his firefighter buddies gets a non-work injury and is laid up, Nick will be right there with his favorite strawberry ice cream.

On Sunday mornings, you’ll find Nick ushering people into St. Theodore with a big handshake and a smile, a service he’s provided for the last 10 years. When I ask him if he’s able to help move a very heavy filing cabinet, he’s there.

Through it all, Nick takes the time to write about what’s going on in his life and in his heart. His words reflect his struggles, and his underlying determination and dedication to community. He finds inspiration in everyday moments. Like most farmers, he’s inspired by the challenge of racing the weather. Like most teachers, he’s inspired by tales of students overcoming adversity.

I’ve learned a lot about Nick in the last few months. There’s just one thing I’ve really been wondering about lately. I’m not sure how to pronounce his last name.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.