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Bill Buell named New Richmond Person of the Year

Bill Buell has been named New Richmond's 2008 Person of the Year. Photo by Jackie Grumish

Bill Buell thinks it's his duty to better the New Richmond area -- that's why he was chosen as 2008 "Person of the Year."

No one denies he makes the perfect candidate -- except Buell.

"I fly under the radar and that's how I like it," he said. "This is just something I do, but it's not just me, it's everyone coming together to make a difference."

His friends, however, think Buell has more to do with it than he might let on.

That's because he's played such a large role in the community, said Tim O'Brien, who serves on various boards with Buell.

In addition to being the driving force behind the New Richmond Area Centre, Buell also owns Domain Inc.; leads the steering committee of the Front Porch Project; is vice-president of the New Richmond Area Community Foundation; founder and funder of The SPACE; serves on the board at Deerfield; and is an actor, producer and stagehand for the ArtBarn.

"Most people will never know the energy and effort that Bill puts into making this community a great place to live," said Michele Hermansen, executive director of The New Richmond Area Community Foundation. I've seen him be the first person to give both money and time when it's something that will make a difference," she said.

For Buell, being involved isn't a choice, it's an obligation.

"It's who I am," he said. "But it's not just me, the entire community needs to be recognized for what's happened."

While the community might be behind some of the events happening in town, Buell is still a leader, said Melissa Huber, artistic director of The SPACE, who has worked with Buell for almost three years.

"He has a great talent to engage people to think up great ideas and encourage them positively, and with energy that is contagious, into reality," she said.

It's that kind of encouragement that got O'Brien's attention.

The two met during the school referendum discussions.

"He said, 'To get what we've never had, we must do what we've never done.' I wrote it down because it made so much sense and it's something I agree with," O'Brien said.

The person who nominated Buell wants to remain anonymous, but several of his colleagues said they also would have nominated him if he wasn't so humble.

Hermansen said Buell is the definition of a good samaritan. He contributes wherever and whenever he can, purely for the sake of doing good things and with no expectation of thanks or recognition, she said.

"As involved as Bill is throughout the community, he has always been a great hero of our youth, especially of students who may not be noticed for their academic or athletic achievement. It is this quality of Bill's that has left the biggest impression on me," Huber said.

The SPACE isn't the only community-based entity Buell has headed -- he also leads the Front Porch Project steering committee, a project designed to improve cooperation and communication between the city, schools, surrounding local governments and residents.

"He saw the need in the community and knew what this project could accomplish," said Patrick Overton with the Front Porch Project. "Through sheer determination and persistence (of which Bill has unbelievable abundance) he has done everything within his ability to make sure this project continues to serve the needs of the New Richmond Area Community. And this is just one way in which he has contributed significantly to his community. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Bill Buell's life defines the term 'citizenship.'"

Hermansen agreed.

"I learned that he had put together a slide show for Jo Wrich's husband's funeral. I said I didn't realize they were good friends. He said he didn't really know her very well at the time, 'but it was important, and you just do what you have to do,'" she said.

That's the kind of character Buell is, O'Brien said.

"He doesn't have to do the things he's doing but chooses to anyway," he said.

It's the only way to better the community, Buell insisted.

"It's a collective effort of people pulling together," he said.

Of all the groups Buell is involved in, there is no favorite, he said.

"They're all so different," he said. "At Domain I work with an extraordinary group of people. At The SPACE it's the people who have walked through these doors... I've met so many people I wouldn't have met if it wasn't for this place."

Buell said it's important that people take the time to step back and look at how far the community has come.

"New Richmond is getting ready to explode in a positive way," he said. "It's a very cool time right now."

According to his friends and colleagues, that positive explosion has a lot to do with Buell.

There is one concept to live by, according to Buell: one community has the self ability to determine who they are.

"This is a phenomenal community with phenomenal resources," he said. "The true story is a community that chooses to say 'yes we can.'"

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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