When Jeff Tschida is honored as the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Year Thursday, he will be a bit uncomfortable.
“I’d much rather be the person behind the scenes,” he said. “I don’t like being in the limelight. I told them my job is to sell tickets behind the counter. I’m comfortable back there. I get to see everybody and say hello.”
Tschida first volunteered at St. Gabriel’s Hospital when he was 15 years old — and he loved it.
Now, 40 years later and with a much longer list of volunteer activities under his belt, he still loves it.
The lifetime resident of Little Falls has lived on the west side since 1967, and is a founding member of the West Side Improvement Association (WSIA).
He said in 2001, he and a group of others were visiting at The Royal Cafe about what they could do for the west side.
In 2002, the WSIA was born, with six businesses and 10 individuals as members. “We pulled off the first Antiques and Collectibles Fair that September,” he said.
For the next eight years, Tschida would serve as president of that organization and remains a member.
The letter nominating Tschida for Volunteer of the Year, listed a host of volunteer activities he does for the Chamber of Commerce — working at its Sporting Clays event, marking spaces for the annual Arts and Crafts Fair, working garbage patrol after the vendors leave and providing free electricity to vendors on the west side.
Tschida is in charge of making sure the city of lights is lit during the holiday season, making the daily rounds to 11 switches on the backs of buildings in town to turn them on and then off. “You need a map to find them, they’re so well hidden,” he said.
Tschida makes sure the Chamber walk is cleared. One of his pet peeves, he said, is a sidewalk not being cleared after a snow. Using his four-wheeler, he clears the walk in front of all of the businesses on his block (he owns the West Side Bar), as well as the Chamber.
In the community, Tschida volunteers at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, working at its parish bazaar for more than 30 years and is a past member of the parish council.
Currently, Tschida is serving his second term as president of the Lindbergh Lions and is chair of the city of Little Falls Park, Recreation and Tree Board. He belongs to several organizations besides the WSIA, including the Little Falls Rifle and Pistol Club, Pheasants Forever and the Eastern Morrison County Four-Wheeler Club.
Tschida said Brian Mackinac appointed him to the city’s Park, Recreation and Tree Board, when he was mayor. “I used to bother him all the time about the playgrounds at the parks,” said Tschida.
That was about 10 years ago. “I just never got off of that board,” he said.
Upgrading the city’s parks through the various organizations he belongs to, is an accomplishment Tschida is proud of.
“It just happens there are a lot of parks on the west side,” said Tschida.
It gives him great pleasure to watch people utilizing the parks.
Tschida was credited by his nominator as being instrumental in continuing the Santa Parade in Little Falls the day after Thanksgiving each year.
Just after the WSIA organized, the entity that usually organized the Santa Parade, had decided to stop, he said. The WSIA stepped in to ensure it would continue.
Tschida credits others with his success as a volunteer.
“I am just fortunate to know so many people — customers and friends here at the bar,” he said.
When someone calls Tschida to ask for help, he said, “I just have to holler and a half a dozen guys come running. Or, I just make a phone call and they’ll drop what they’re doing and come help me.
“There are a lot of people more deserving (of the award),” said Tschida. “It’s not me — it’s everybody I know — it’s my friends that deserve this.”
Being a member of the Chamber has benefits, too, Tschida said.
“The advantage of being in the Chamber is you have everyone on speed dial,” he said. “It’s an information pool … the strength of the knowledge you get. One person can’t know everything, but everybody together makes it so much easier.”
Volunteers make a difference, if everybody does a little bit, he said. “Once you start, you’re going to find out you’ll want to keep doing it more and more,” he said.
Tschida said he had no idea who nominated him, but was thankful.
The number one person he had to thank was his wife, Deb. Tschida said he wouldn’t be able to do all he does without her. He met Deb when she first came to town and attended a WSIA meeting. The two have been married for 6 1/2 years.
“She’s my secretary, she does everything for me,” he said.
Those who would like to volunteer, but just don’t know where to look, should call Tschida.
“Anybody who wants to volunteer, if you can’t find a place to volunteer, give me a call,” said Tschida. “I’ll put you in any direction you want to go.”