2013 Woodbury Citizens’ Academy Graduation

Here are a few photos from the 2013 Woodbury Citizens’ Academy graduation ceremony held at the Eagle Valley Golf Course tonight. I attended the 4th annual WCA graduation as an alumnus and volunteer.

WCA is a great program offered by Woodbury Community Foundation under the leadership of Executive Director Alisa Rabin Bell, in partnership with the City of Woodbury and Woodbury Lions Club. I was honored to be a part of it, as a participant in the first annual WCA in 2010 and then as a volunteer this year.

2013 Woodbury Citizens’ Academy class picture

Alisa Rabin Bell


Mary Giuliani Stephens, Woodbury Mayor


Mary Van Milligen


Culture & Diversity event in Woodbury

Woodbury Citizens’ Academy is a 10-week program offered by the Woodbury Community Foundation. The purpose of the program is to introduce residents to local government and organizations.

I participated in the first Woodbury Citizens’ Academy in 2010. Now in its 4th year, WCA was expanded to include a new session on culture & diversity. The event took place on March 18 at Central Park.

Several local individuals and organizations were invited to participate and showcase their culture.

Representatives from the City of Woodbury gave a presentation on the population growth in Minnesota and Woodbury. With 20% of minority population (half of them are Asian), Woodbury has one of the highest percentage of minority population among all cities in Minnesota.

Participants also enjoyed small group discussions, traditional Indian and Hmong dances, and ethnic food.

The new session turned out to be a very popular one. City of Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and City Administrator Clinton Gridley were also present.

I volunteered at the Chinese table and took a few photos which were posted on my Facebook.

Woodbury Citizens’ Academy graduation

2010 Woodbury Citizens’ Academy class picture

The first Woodbury Citizens’ Academy ended today with the graduation ceremony at the Eagle Valley Golf Course.

I am honored to be part of this first WCA class with 25 members. During the last nine weekly sessions, we learned about all aspects of Woodbury community: city government, public safety, community activities, city works, history, education, local media, business, and voluntarism.

It was a great opportunity to learn about the community and to meet some leaders in the community. I recommend this program to anyone who is interested in learning and getting involved with the community.

The graduation ceremony began at 7:15 with welcome and remarks by Alisa Rabin Bell, Executive Director of Woodbury Community Foundation. Then each class member was presented with a graduation certificate and the book Volunteer for Life: Achieve Your Personal and Professional Goals by Kelly Jahner-Byrne who spoke at our last session on voluntarism. Kelly is the winner of the 2001 Mrs. Minnesota pageant.

A heartfelt thank-you to Alisa Rabin Bell, Matt Stemwedel (City of Woodbury) and Marisa Novak for planning and organizing this program. Thank you Matt and Marisa for volunteering your time to the Woodbury Citizen’s Academy.

Dorothy Ann bakery & Café in Woodbury deserves a special thank you for providing refreshments at each program day.

Marisa Novak, Qin Tang and Alisa Rabin Bell


Americans are big on volunteering. People volunteer everywhere, in schools, senior centers, hospitals, and many other non-profit organizations. They volunteer in local communities and on mission trips thousands of miles away.

The unmatchable spirit of voluntarism found in this country is part of what makes United States one of the greatest countries, if not the greatest country on earth now.

Any program dealing with local communities can’t be complete without talking about voluntarism and community services.

Voluntarism is the focus of session nine of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held today at East Ridge High School. It is our last session of learning. Next week’s final session will be our graduation and celebration party.

We had presenters and panels representing different non-profit organizations in the community.

Bill Hargis, Mayor of Woodbury, who was supposed to be at our first session to talk about city government but missed it back in February, came today and shared how he got involved in different volunteer activities and later became the mayor of Woodbury.

I have seen the mayor’s pictures in local newspapers and city publications countless times, but this was probably the first time I met him in person.

Alisa Rabin Bell, Executive Director of Woodbury Community Foundation, organizer of this first Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, said a few words about the Woodbury Community Foundation and some upcoming events.

Valerie Jones, Community Thread, gave a presentation on voluntarism. She talked about the national, state and local trends and resources.

Dick Stafford, former Washington County Commissioner, talked about the Woodbury Veterans Memorial.

Darrin Ewing, talked about the Woodbury’s Yellow Ribbon Network.

Michelle Witte, President of Woodbury Community Theater and Vice President of Arts Connection, talked about how the permanent home –  the Loft Theater at East Ridge High School – for the Woodbury Community Theater came about and the new Arts Center to be built in the near future, thanks to the $2 million donation by Dorothy Merrill.

Larry McFadden talked about Kiwanis Club, a global organization dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time.

Mary LaPrairie, talked about Relay for Life, the biggest fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

Theresa Janechek talked about Woodbury Days as its Council Chair.

It’s interesting to learn about the different organizations and volunteer opportunities.

When Valerie Jones asked every participant to say one word what volunteer means for him/her, the following were mentioned.

Rewarding, grateful, inspiring, fulfilling, personal, long-term, learning, giving, sharing, etc.

These words summarize well what voluntarism is all about.

All about business

I have lived in Woodbury for almost 10 years, but have never been to Woodwinds Hospital which opened 10 years ago in 2000. It’s the only hospital in Woodbury and in the southeast Twin Cities metro area.

Today I had a chance to visit this award winning and much praised health care facility, not because of any medical needs, but because I had Woodbury Citizen’s Academy session eight in Woodwinds Conference room.

It is a nice facility. When I walked in, I didn’t feel like I was in a hospital.

Roger Green, who works at Woodwinds and is also on the board of Woodbury Community Foundation, gave us a brief introduction about the Hospital.

Today’s main topic was about business in Woodbury. An important part of business development is going toward health industry, because Woodbury is developing a medical campus and trying to market Woodbury as a medical destination.

We had representatives from the City of Woodbury and Woodbury Chamber of Commerce to talk about business development and WCC.

Scott Carlson (Local business owner) and Dawn Paetz (WCC Chair) gave an overview about Woodbury Chamber of Commerce.

Janelle Schmitz, Planning & Economic Development Manager from City of Woodbury, talked about strategic planning for economic development.

Christopher Burns, an attorney and volunteer for the Economic Development Commission, shared how citizens can get involved in economic development planning through various committees.

Now I have a better understanding of what Chamber of Commerce is. Some people might think that Chamber of Commerce is part of the city government. That’s what I thought. But they are two different organizations. However, they do work closely together to promote business development in Woodbury.

As with the past seven sessions, this was another informative one. I enjoyed learning new things. It’s fun to meet people in person whom I read about in the newspaper.


Meet the local media

As a writer and someone who cares about the local community, meeting with editors and publishers of the local media and learning about what they do and how they do their jobs are of great interest to me.

I am fortunate to be part of the first Woodbury Citizen’s Academy. Today, for session seven, we had the opportunity to meet the press in the Woodbury City Hall.

The following people gave us a brief history and overview of each entity they represent.

• Hank Long, Managing editor – Woodbury Bulletin
• Ted Lillie, Publisher – Lillie suburban newspaper
• Debbie, Editor – Woodbury Magazine
• Julie Lehr, Communications Coordinator and Jason Egerstrom, Communications Specialist – City of Woodbury Communications

Hank Long, Ted Lillie and Julie Lehr walked us through the development process of how to cover a news story, using Woodbury Lakes Shopping Center as an example. They talked about the five stages in the process: rumor, application, public hearing, approval and grand opening, and demonstrated how one would go about identifying the sources and issues, and writing from interesting angles.

Debbie Musser shared how she plans an issue of Woodbury Magazine. She also let us play the role of editor and brainstorm ideas for the Magazine.

It was a really interesting and informative session. I not only learned some insights of the local media, but also met with the people in charge of the media. What a great learning and networking opportunity!

I knew Hank from writing for the Woodbury Bulletin. I thought he always writes about other people and put other people in the spotlight. Today I could finally put him in the spotlight. That’s why I took a picture of him during his presentation.

So here comes Hank, editor of Woodbury Bulletin.

Oops, my picture turned out to be a little blurry to be useful. So unless Hank is willing to send me a picture of himself, you would have to get a paper copy of Woodbury Bulletin to see him. You can get the newspaper in grocery stores or gas stations in Woodbury. It comes out every Wednesday.

For the monthly Woodbury Magazine, you can get free subscription by requesting it via its website. I highly recommend it. I enjoy reading the Magazine with beautiful photos and nice articles.

I am not so familiar with the Woodbury-South Maplewood Review. You can get more info from its website.

City of Woodbury has a few publications worth mentioning and reading: the Woodbury City Update (10 issues per year) and Parks and Recreation brochure (three times a year in April, Aug. and Nov.) that every household and business in Woodbury gets automatically.  

The City of Woodbury website has a wealth of information. You can sign up for InTouch lists to get updates on different topics from the city.

BTW, when you go to the city’s Parks and Recreation website to register for classes, you can see a photo of my son. That photo won the Woodbury Photo Contest a few years ago. I am glad they like the photo and have it on their website.


Education opportunities in Woodbury

Education was the topic of today’s session, the session six of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held at Woodbury High School.

The following school principals and administrators from local schools gave presentations about birth to adult education, school choices (public, charter, private) and brief introduction about individual schools.

  • Linda Plante, Principal, Woodbury High School
  • Nicole Robbins, founder, Footprints Academy/Peace of Mind Early Education Center
  • Terry Campbell, Administrator, New Life Academy
  • Matthew Metz, Principal, St. Ambrose of Woodbury
  • Tiffany Simmons, Globe University

Alison Canty, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator at School District 833, shared her experience as a student growing up in Woodbury.

Woodbury is a growing community with a variety of education opportunities. Having high quality education and different choices of schools have certainly contributed to the growth of the community.

I can’t believe we have already been more than half way through with the 10 week program offered by the Woodbury Community Foundation. I look forward to every session to learn different things about Woodbury. When you have fun, time just goes by so quickly.

Next session’s topic is about local media. As a writer, that certainly will be my favorite topic. I look forward to meeting with editors and publishers of the local media. 

Learning about Woodbury history

Learning about the history of the community we live in and hearing older generation talking about what life was like in the old days are fascinating.

That’s just what we did today at session five of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held in the oldest church of Woodbury, maybe one of the oldest in the whole state, Woodbury United Methodist Church.

Several members from the Woodbury Heritage Society came to do a presentation and panel discussion to share their knowledge about Woodbury: its geography, history, first settlers, first churches, first mayor, first developments, early schools, early community life, population growth, etc.

It was great to learn where our street or school names such as Bielenberg, Red Rock, Middleton came from, among other things.

We had a chance to see some pictures and artifacts. We also did a whirlygigs project to take home. That’s what kids played with before they had plastic toys so common today.

I have lived in Woodbury since 2001. I don’t know how many times I have driven past the Woodbury Heritage House and Garden located at the corner of Radio Drive and Lake Road. In the last couple of years I wanted to take my kids to visit it, but never did. It’s a shame. I will make sure to visit the little house this summer. After today’s presentations I am really motivated to do so.

I want to say thank you to Bill Schrankler, Wayne Schilling, Kathryn Ho, Ken Wolterstorff and Bud Urtel from the Woodbury Heritage Society for your informative and interactive presentations and discussions. Thank you for what you have done to help keep Woodbury’s past alive. I hope your love for Woodbury has inspired a few souls to join you in your wonderful cause.

Woodbury Heritage Society is in need of volunteers who can help preserve and document Woodbury’s history and aid residents of our community in learning and understanding more about Woodbury’s early years. Please visit Woodbury Heritage Society’s website for more information.

City works

What makes our living in a community like Woodbury possible and comfortable?

If I ask people this question, I bet not many people will think about public works. I didn’t either.

But that changed today after I attended the session four of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy held in the Woodbury Public Works building. We learned about some of the city works.

Dwight Picha (Community Development Director) and Janelle Schmitz (Planning and Economic Development Manager) gave a presentation about Woodbury city planning including the new 2030 Comprehensive Plan, development review process, environmental management and inspection services.

David Jessup (Engineering and Public Works Director), Klayton Eckles (Deputy Engineering and Public Works Director/City Engineer) and Dick Riemenschneider (Public Works Superintendent) talked about public works and gave us a tour of the building and garage.

By the way, I was very impressed by how orderly and clean the Public Works fleet and garage are. My family has only two vehicles in our garage. They don’t look nearly as clean.

Learning about public infrastructure, the transportation, water and sewer systems, and how public works work has given me a new sense of appreciation for something I have taken for granted and don’t think about.

I felt more appreciation for the people in the Public Works Department who get up in the middle of night to plow snow so others can travel safely on the road.

Imagine living in a place with no roads, no clean water and no sanitary sewer system, how would that be like?

If we could know what that would be, I am sure we would all be more appreciative of what city works have done for us.


Learning about community activities

Woodbury Citizen’s Academy held session three today on community activities.

We learned about various educational and recreational opportunities offered by different organizations in Woodbury.

The presentations included:

  1. City of Woodbury Parks & Recreation Department – Jodi Sauro, Recreation Supervisor
  2. Community Education – Cristeen Lamberty, Community Education Manager
  3. Woodbury Athletic Association – Gene Johnson, WAA Executive Director
  4. East Ridge Athletic Association – Tami Rein and Tony Ronquillo. ERAA President and Vice President
  5. Woodbury Youth Althletic League – Mike Schaffer, WYAL

I learned something new from each presentation.

I knew the Eagle Valley Golf Course is owned by the City. Since it is open for only half of year and requires high maintenance, I always wondered how it is funded.

I was glad to find out that Eagle Valley Golf Course as well as Bielenberg Sports Center are actually profitable business enterprises for the City of Woodbury. Eagle Valley Golf Course generates more revenue than Bielenberg Sports Center. They don’t need any funding from the City.

The presentations gave me an opportunity to clear some confusion regarding WAA and ERAA.

WAA is an independent, nonprofit, youth organization administered and managed mostly by volunteer adults. WAA is not affiliated with the Woodbury High School, or only very loosely, while ERAA is affiliated with East Ridge High School and run by all volunteers.

Any youth can participate in WAA programs. But for ERAA football, baseball, basketball programs (both in-house and travelling), they are targeted at student athletes in the ERHS attendance boundary. ERAA does offer other “club” sports (like soccer, wrestling, track, etc.) that are “open boundary” and as such, will include athletes from outside of the East Ridge attendance boundary.

The presentations gave me a big picture of what Woodbury has to offer to its residents for educational and recreational opportunities. It was a great opportunity for me to learn something new about the Woodbury community.