Retired DHS director named Citizen of the Year

Published 8:50 am Monday, March 6, 2023

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Man hasn’t let retirement slow him down; aims to help the less fortunate in and outside of Albert Lea

Albert Lean Darryl Meyer grew up as the son of a preacher, learning early on to take the Scripture seriously that explains that whom much is given, much is expected.

It’s with that mindset that Meyer selected his career in social work and human services, serving the most vulnerable, and about 17 years into his retirement, he continues to serve many in need in other ways.

“We’ve felt we were blessed, and I see the commitment, the direction that says, ‘go and do though likewise,’” he said.

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It is for this mindset and the impact Meyer continues to have on the Albert Lea community that he was selected as the Tribune’s 2023 Citizen of the Year.

Though he retired as Freeborn County Department of Human Services director in 2006, he has picked up numerous volunteer efforts, including delivering meals through Meals on the Go, unloading food for the Ecumenical Food Pantry, serving through the Albert Lea Daybreakers Kiwanis Club and working on boards or advisory committees for St. John’s Lutheran Community and Youth For Christ.

Meyer moved to Minnesota in the 1960s, working as a social worker in Clearwater County. He said it was in that position that he learned from another social worker — who was a member of the White Earth tribe — much about relationship building and to not take himself so seriously.

After that, he worked as a school social worker out of Crookston and worked as a liaison for Native American families whose children started attending the public schools following the closure of the Native American school there. He said it was a tremendous learning experience.

“I’m sure I learned more from it than any other good I might have done,” Meyer said.

At the same time, he started helping out more at his church as his pastor had cancer and he began reading Scripture to the congregation and even sharing the message.

He also filled in for a three-month period for a neighboring pastor who oversaw a four-point parish.

“That kind of sunk into me, so as we went to other places along the way, we looked for things that hadn’t been done,” Meyer said.

Next, he moved to the southwest corner of the state and helped establish one of the first rural child protection teams in the state. He also helped start a summer youth project there.

He moved to Albert Lea in 1984, where he started working for Freeborn County.

He said he was introduced to Robin and Greg Gudal, who were licensed foster parents.

Robin Gudal said he listened to them and cared, and she appreciated his leadership as they fostered for over 10 years.

When Meyer retired, they connected with him again as leaders of South Central Minnesota Youth for Christ. She said they were about to begin a large undertaking of remodeling the basement of The Rock downtown.

“I can’t even begin to report how many Mrs. Gerry’s large potato salad buckets of cement were hammered out and hauled up the steps,” she said. “He showed up every day for over a year and worked tirelessly, even learning new skills he had never attempted. He was a godsend to say it lightly. We would never have completed it in the timeframe or as well done without him, that I know.”

Greg Gudal said Meyer has served on the board of directors for at least two terms and has helped with fundraisers of all kinds, including banquets and peach sales each year. He is also the head trustee for the Youth for Christ Endowment Fund and serves on the Albert Lea Youth for Christ Community Support Team.

“He has been such a blessing in helping kids in Albert Lea and beyond,” Greg Gudal said.

Meyer also served on the board at St. John’s Lutheran Community, including as chairman during the construction of the organization’s new Fountain Lake campus, and now serves on an advisory committee there.

Meyer said he first joined the Kiwanis organization in the 1970s and joined the Daybreakers Club in Albert Lea in 2006 after his retirement.

He led a project for about 25 other Kiwanis Clubs in the region from 2013 to 2021 working with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation to obtain books to distribute to local preschool and kindergarten students. Though he no longer oversees the project for the region, he leads the effort with the Albert Lea clubs, working with representatives from other clubs to line up times to prepare the books for distribution and then to read in the classrooms at three public school districts, two private schools and other child care centers.

Through the Daybreakers Club he also helps bag and sell kettle corn as a fundraiser for the club and has worked as liaison up until last year for his club to the Aktion Club, a service club affiliated with Kiwanis for adults with disabilities.

He has delivered meals to eight to 12 people one day a week through Meals on the Go for at least 10 years and is also involved with Trinity Lutheran Church, where he is a member.

Eileen Woyen, pastor of the church, said Meyer serves the church as a Holy Communion assistant and reads the lessons and shares in their prayers.

“Darryl has a gift for sharing God’s Word,” Woyen said. “Darryl’s voice and presentation of the Scripture and our prayers is inspirational and assists in our understanding.”

She said Meyer’s passion for others and serving God is evident in his daily life.

He is also involved in several other efforts outside of the community through Minnesota Teen Challenge for people struggling with addictions and Camp Hill Village Minnesota for adults with developmental disabilities. He has also sponsored the education of several youth in other countries over the years and has even taken part in efforts in other countries.

Meyer and his wife, Jo, have two children and one grandchild.


Other nominees this year for Albert Lea Citizen of the Year

  • Diane Hanson
  • Valerie Kvale
  • Lee Zuniga
  • Mary Hinnenkamp
  • Corald Peterson
  • Florence Brendt

Members of the Albert Lea Citizen of the Year Selection Committee

  • John Holt
  • Cindy Lunning-Armon
  • Crystal Miller
  • Rick Mummert
  • Don Nolander
  • Tom Sorenson
  • Sarah Stultz