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O'Brien named Fun Fest grand marshal

In a departure from tradition, when this year's Chamber of Commerce citizen of the year was named at the Chamber's annual awards banquet, he was simultaneously given the honor of serving as the grand marshal of the Fun Fest parade.

"From now on the person selected as the citizen of the year at our banquet in January is automatically grand marshal of the Fun Fest Parade," Chamber Executive Director Russ Korpela said. "If they aren't available to serve as grand marshal, someone else will serve in their place."

At this year's banquet, Tim O'Brien of New Richmond was named citizen of the year by the Chamber's executive committee and agreed to fulfill his duties as grand marshal in the July 12 parade.

While it is not mandatory to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce to earn the honor of citizen of the year, it certainly helps.

According to Korpela, most of New Richmond's past citizens of the year have been Chamber members.

Since the executive committee of the Chamber bestows the honor upon the citizenry, Korpela said membership is most often how the honoree is known by the committee.

"The executive committee solicits nominations from the Chamber membership for our top five honors, which are member of the year, citizen of the year, small and large business of the year and mom and pop business of the year," Korpela explained. "If there are not enough nominees or there aren't any, a list of candidates is solicited from the community."

This year, there were plenty of nominees and O'Brien earned the honor for his strong and continued involvement in many facets of the community.

According to Korpela, the Chamber's citizen of the year is someone who consistently puts his or her community and fellow citizens above their own interests. This person is one who makes the community a better place to live.

In his January speech, Korpela said "there is no better example of that than this year's citizen of the year."

A dedicated husband and father, O'Brien has served on many Chamber committees, including president.

"He was active in encouraging a forward thinking School Board and served on the committee that recommended the School District's long-range building needs, which is now becoming a reality," Korpela said.

O'Brien is also actively involved with the Front Porch Project and is a member of the Vision 20/20 group, which meets to promote the retail vitality of New Richmond's downtown area.

Additionally, O'Brien heads the trial and litigation team at the Bakke Norman Law Office in New Richmond.

O'Brien said he hasn't been in the Fun Fest parade since his son was Little Mr. Swimsuit about 12 years ago.

"My wife, Stacey, was nine months pregnant then and our daughter, Molly, was born the day after that parade," recalled O'Brien. "We always joke that the loud drums from the Rice Lake Marching Band had something to do with her birth the next day."

As for being the grand marshal, O'Brien joked that it's better than walking behind the horses in the parade.

In true citizen of the year fashion, O'Brien had to make a difficult call to fulfill his duties as grand marshal. His daughter Molly, now 12, will be dancing in a national competition in Branson, Mo. the same weekend as Fun Fest.

"It was a really tough call," O'Brien said, "but my wife will go to the nationals with Molly and my son, Joe, 14, will be with me in the parade."

O'Brien said he is honored to be both citizen of the year and grand marshal.

"The Chamber has done great things in the past few years," O'Brien said. "It's great to see all the positive things happening in the community and I'm glad to be a part of it."