By Andrea Busche
The Superior Jaycees Make Superior a Better Place to Live and Work Through Service, Leadership – and Fun
The Superior Junior Chamber of Commerce (otherwise known as the Jaycees) is a civic organization whose purpose is to train the leaders of tomorrow. Its mission is “To provide men and women ages 21 – 39 the opportunity to develop personal and leadership skills through local community action and organizational involvement while expanding the Junior Chamber movement.”
Founded in Superior in 1953, the organization is a chapter of the Wisconsin Jaycees and the U.S. Jaycees. While the national and state branches have rebranded themselves and are now known as JCI (Junior Chamber International), the Superior chapter continues to go by the Jaycees name.
Like many civic organizations founded in the 1950s, the club was originally broken out by gender; male members were known as Jaycees and female members known as Jaycettes. But today, the club welcomes everyone under the Jaycees umbrella.
A Young Person’s Group
As noted in its mission statement, Jaycees membership is limited to the age range of 21 to 39. There is no limit on membership length, but officers, who are elected by their peers, retain their titles for one year. Once members “age out,” the hope is that they will join other outstanding civic organizations in Superior, such as Rotary Club, Kiwanis or the Optimist Club.
While the group focuses on leadership skills, networking and community service, its youthful, dedicated members also place a high priority on having fun throughout the year. For instance, the Superior Jaycees are the energetic group behind the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest, a beer-sampling extravaganza that raises money for good causes right here in the Superior community.
“We currently have three couples who are Jaycees members, and there are even three Jaycees babies.”
– Past President Kerstyn Hendricks
While the Brewfest is its signature fundraiser, the Jaycees have plenty of other projects they are committed to, including community service events, making financial donations, providing networking opportunities and more. And all of these events and initiatives not only benefit its members; they directly benefit Superior and Douglas County, too.
Accomodating Millennials’ Busy Schedules
Current Jaycees President Lukas Saunders explained that the group meets on the third Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. Meetings are held at the Superior Elks Club, located at 1503 Belknap St. Domino’s pizza is served at each meeting, and the Elks provide a discount on beverages.
During meetings, Jaycees members review donation requests, listen to officer reports, discuss upcoming events and plan networking activities. When decisions need to be made, each member has an equal vote.
Saunders is an attorney at the Torvinen, Jones, Routh, Torvinen & Saunders law firm. He’s also a husband, a dad, an Elks Club member and has taught college courses. So he understands the challenges of juggling busy family and work responsibilities and activities. That’s why the Jaycees work hard to be accomodating to members’ schedules.
“This is the time [ages 21 to 39] in most people’s lives when they’re often trying to get a career up and running and raise a family at the same time,” he said. “So we try to make it as low-key as possible. There are no firm time commitments required of Jaycees members.”
“The more members we have, the more good things we can do.”
– President Lukas Saunders
To make the culture even more friendly to young people, children of Jaycees are welcome to attend meetings with their parents. Kerstyn Hendricks, the 2017 Jaycees president and a current member, works as a signature banking specialist at National Bank of Commerce. “We want people to be active in the community, so kids are welcome to attend our meetings,” she said. “We currently have three couples who are Jaycees members, and there are even three Jaycees babies right now.”
New Members Always Welcome
The membership currently hovers around 20 people who are incredibly passionate about supporting the Jaycees’ mission of helping the community. “We have a very strong core of individuals who show up regularly to volunteer,” said Nikky Farmakes, the Jaycees’ vice president of business development.
“The people we have are top-notch. They’re dedicated, and that’s really what we need,” Saunders added.
While Jaycees members often don’t have a surplus of money to give at this stage in their lives, they do have youth and energy on their side. Membership dues are kept intentionally low – only $50 annually per member.
“While I don’t have a lot of disposable income to donate money, I do have time,” said Farmakes. She is the director of marketing and social media for the Superior-Douglas County Area Chamber of Commerce and Travel Superior, so her expertise makes Farmakes a natural fit for her position as a Jaycees officer. She, too, understands the demands of a hectic schedule. But being a Jaycees member, Farmakes said, is a rewarding experience.
“The Jaycees have such a far reach in this community, and many people don’t know how deeply involved we’ve been.”
– Vice President-Business Development Nikky Farmakes
New members are always welcome, and the community at large has an open invitation to attend a meeting anytime to learn more about the Jaycees. “The more members we have, the more good things we can do,” Saunders said.
Service Projects and Events
As previously noted, the popular Gitchee Gumee Brewfest is the Superior Jaycees’ signature fundraising event. However, this group also supports the community year-round through a variety of initiatives and activities, including:
Bell-ringing for The Salvation Army, which is typically done at Superior’s Super One grocery store, both in July and December.
Participating in the Adopt-a-Highway project; the group sponsors a two-mile stretch of Highway 2 between Wentworth and Poplar to keep it free of litter.
Volunteering at the Lake Superior Ice Festival, where Jaycees members keep the bonfire burning and make s’mores for attendees.
Jaycees Sandbox Fill: Every June, cheerful Jaycees volunteers fill local children’s sandboxes with fresh, clean sand for them to enjoy at no cost. The City of Superior donates staff time and the use of a dump truck, and Monarch Paving donates the sand.
For the past 22 years, the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest has been the Jaycees’ largest fundraiser.
Each year, the Jaycees’ projects are reevaluated, and they can change at any time. “We do whatever we think best fits our community and what our members feel most strongly about,” Hendricks explained.
The Sandbox Fill has been a longtime favorite event of many Jaycees members. “We can serve so many people, and you see a return on investment right away. The kids and their parents are so happy,” Hendricks said.
“The Sandbox Fill is near and dear to my heart,” echoed Jaycees Treasurer Whitney Saunders, who lives in Superior and works in the human resources department at Altec Industries in Duluth. “What you get back is measured in the kids’ smiles.”
In previous years, the Jaycees have helped with the Punt, Pass, Kick program, where they teamed up with the Superior Youth Football Program to host a local competition for local youth. The group has made care baskets for people undergoing inpatient chemo treatments at Essentia Health and St. Luke’s and has contributed to Superior’s Spooktacular Halloween event. The Jaycees have also teamed up with University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjacket Athletics to sponsor “Stick it to Cancer” events at Wessman Arena. Area residents enjoyed the excitement of men’s and women’s hockey games and also purchased merchandise for sale at the games. All funds benefited local breast cancer patients.
Above all, the group tries to reach as many people as possible. “We try to reach all age groups in the community,” noted Whitney Saunders.
“What you get back is measured in the kids’ smiles.”
– Treasurer Whitney Saunders
The Superior Jaycees also give back to the community through financial contributions to charitable causes. Over the years, they have donated to the AMSOIL Northland Law Enforcement K-9 Foundation, the Superior Fire Department, UW-Superior Little Yellowjacket summer camps, the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (CASDA), the Special Olympics and many more organizations.
The Jaycees also provide annual scholarships. In 2017, the group awarded a total of $3,500 to students attending UW-Superior and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, along with a senior graduating from Superior High School.
Beyond the charitable causes already listed, the Jaycees will consider giving to any organization in need. “We receive donation requests from individuals and groups, and as long as their requests align with Jaycees goals, we will consider them,” Whitney Saunders said.
Social Activities and Networking
In addition to serving their community, networking and social gatherings are a hallmark of the Jaycees. On an annual basis, the Superior Jaycees participate in several events where members can visit, network and get to know other businesspeople. Examples include:
Sponsoring a Superior Chamber “Business After 5” event, where, in concert with National Bank of Commerce and Positively Superior magazine, the Jaycees collected toys to donate to The Salvation Army’s Toys for Tots program.
“We have made the most amazing friendships.”
– Amber Pedersen, Gitchee Gumme Brewfest Coordinator
Whenever possible (depending on membership levels), the Jaycees have a team participating in the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival. In 2011 and 2012, the group earned the festival’s gold medal in the bronze division.
Every year, the Jaycees present awards to members of the community at the Chamber’s annual dinner.
Twice a year, the Jaycees hold membership mixers at local restaurants, where members can relax, mingle and enjoy great food and beverages. The venue rotates each time so the group can patronize new businesses.
As “Junior Chamber members,” Jaycees are always welcome to attend Superior-Douglas County Area Chamber of Commerce events.
Jaycees members will also attend other organizations’ gatherings upon request. “We will go anywhere we are asked to go in order to talk about the Jaycees,” Farmakes said.
The Gitchee Gumee Brewfest
For the past 22 years, the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest has been the Jaycees’ largest fundraiser. Considered the Jaycees’ signature event, the Brewfest has been held at Wessman Arena for all but its first year, when beer connoisseurs were packed around the swimming pool at the Barker’s Island Inn.
This event has grown to include 35 brewers, including local Twin Ports favorites Earth Rider Brewery, Canal Park Brewery, Bent Paddle Brewing. Co., Thirsty Pagan Brewing and Lake Superior Brewing Co., which has participated every year since the very first Brewfest. And for those who prefer options to beer, a variety of ciders, meads and “malternative beverages” are available. White Winter Winery, based in Iron River, Wis., has also become a popular Brewfest guest.
Amber Pedersen has been a Jaycees member for 10 years and is also a past president. In her professional life, Pedersen works as a program director at Duluth Regional Care Center. She began coordinating the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest in 2011 along with her brother, fellow Jaycees member Brent Fennessey.
Pedersen noted that while the Jaycees definitely show their loyalty by welcoming repeat brewers, it’s always fun to include new breweries so attendees can sample even more craft beers. “We always like to have brewers return from year to year, but we also leave room for the newer guys, such as Moose Lake Brewing Co.,” she said.
Gitchee Gumee Brewfest tickets are priced at $30 for general admission and $50 for VIP tickets, which include food, early admission, an opportunity to speak to the brewers and a sampling of a unique “VIP beer.” On an annual basis, 1,100 general admission and 250 VIP tickets are sold. Entrance is free for designated drivers, provided they are 21 or older. Food is also available for purchase.
While people have fun sipping, sampling and eating, they can also feel good about attending this event, knowing that money raised from the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest goes to good causes. Profits are funneled directly back into the community; the Jaycees allocate money to where it is most needed in the upcoming year.
A Great Way to Plant Roots
For Lukas Saunders and Whitney Saunders, who are married, joining the Jaycees was the perfect opportunity to integrate into the Superior community. Whitney is originally from New London, Iowa, and Lukas is from Green Bay, Wis. The couple moved to Superior in 2011.
“As a person who moved into this community, joining the Jaycees has been a great way to be part of a team,” Whitney said. “It was crucial for me to find people similar to me in terms of age, profession, et cetera.”
“We’ve really found a great network of good friends through the Jaycees,” Lukas added. “It makes Superior feel like home.”
Why It’s Worth It
When joining the Superior Jaycees, you can rest assured that you’re doing something good for your community while developing your leadership skills. It’s also a great way to expand your network, because you’ll meet and work with leaders of area businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“I like to be active and involved, and the Jaycees allow me to give back to the community along with a group,” Hendricks said in reflecting upon the benefits that membership brings. “We all work together toward the common good.”
“The Jaycees have such a far reach in this community, and many people don’t know how deeply involved we’ve been,” Farmakes said. “We care so much about this community, and we all want to make it a great place to work, live and play.”
Pedersen, who proudly serves in the Jaycees along with her husband, Taylor (the Chamber’s president and CEO), said, “The Jaycees have become such a big part of our lifestyle. It doesn’t feel like work. We have made the most amazing friendships, and I love knowing we’re doing a lot of good for our community.”
Every meeting of this organization closes with a group reading of the Jaycees creed. In addition to building a team atmosphere and cameraderie amongst group members, doing so reinforces why they choose to invest their time, talents and energy into making their community a better place to live.
That faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life;
That the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations;
That economic justice can best be won by free men through free enterprise;
That government should be of laws rather than of men;
That earth’s great treasure lies in human personality;
And that service to humanity is the best work of life.
For more information, please visit superiorjaycees.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donation requests are always welcomed and will be considered by the Jaycees membership. P.S.
Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer based in the Twin Ports.