2008 Heart of the Event Awards

Minnesota Monthly’s

Heart of the Event Award is an opportunity for non-profits to nominate a volunteer within their organizations for one of their special events. These award winners go above and beyond the call of duty. They make these events possible because of their big hearts and consistent dedication.

Congratulations to the 2008 winners:

Ron Abrahamson

Twin Cities Marathon, Inc.

Ron Abrahamson runs the Twin Cities Marathon. He just runs it from behind-the-scenes.

Since 2001, Ron has volunteered on the Twin Cities Marathon, Inc. Board of Directors, serving on the finance, governance, outreach, and human resources committees, as well as serving as board president from 2002-2005. His leadership skills, dedication to health and wellbeing, business foresight, and enthusiasm about youth fitness partnerships has moved the organization to a truly community-centered institution. Under Ron’s direction, the marathon has expanded its efforts to help the greater Twin Cities community combat youth obesity and reached underserved children in the Native American, African American, Hispanic and Somali communities.

A fellow Board member says Ron “knows how to run the marathon’s business and how to effect needed changes through people. He connects with people and makes sure they do what they need to do for the organization, while making them feel good about how they’re spending their time. Few people have these skills. Applying his background, energy, common sense, and genuine, warm personality, Ron makes working on the marathon as much fun as participating as a runner.” 

Debbie Bequette

Children’s Cancer Research Fund

It doesn’t take a long meeting with Debbie Bequette to see that she’s the kind of person who is spurred to action when she sees a need. After watching her 10-year-old niece, Christina Buckner, lose a hard-fought battle against cancer in the fall of 1998, Debbie saw more than a need–she saw a vast, gaping hole–when it came to raising money to eradicate childhood cancer. Since that fateful day a decade ago, Debbie has been a valuable volunteer with Children’s Cancer Research Fund, giving of her time, her talents, and her heart.

In 1999, she took over as volunteer coordinator for the Dawn of a Dream Gala fundraising event. In this role, Debbie oversees more than 100 volunteers–no easy task–with efficiency, enthusiasm, terrific organizational skills, and a warm, friendly smile. An effective group of team captains return year after year under Debbie’s guidance; she even recruited family members, including her daughter Jenny, to work the event. From registration to live auction spotters, gift deliveries to coordinating last minute details, Debbie makes sure everyone–volunteers and guests alike–have a wonderful evening.

Over the past nine years, her dedicated efforts have raised more than $5.6 million for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund in support of cutting-edge pediatric cancer research at the University of Minnesota. 

Don Davidson


For Don Davidson, volunteering is a way of life. He has been a member of the PACER Center Advisory Board for the past 11 years, co-chair of PACER’s Benefit Corporate Sponsor Committee, and a loyal and steadfast advocate of PACER’s annual benefit. Learning about PACER when his children were young and diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, he gives of his time and energy because he believes in the mission of the organization: To expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of “parents helping parents.”

At PACER Center–a parent training and information center–parents can find publications, workshops, and other resources to help make decisions about education, vocational training, employment, and other services for their children with disabilities.

Don not only took advantage of the resources, he became one of their biggest supporters. He works diligently to collect silent auction items for the annual benefit, contacting local businesses and corporate sponsors and spreading the word about PACER in his job as a dealer/principal at Sears Imported Autos, Inc., telling employees, auto dealers in the area, and just about anyone who will listen about the ways PACER is changing lives. The silent auction at the annual benefit is a great success thanks, in large part, to Don’s generous devotion of time and energy. 

Gretchen Ambrosier

American Red Cross, Twin Cities Chapter

Gretchen Ambrosier’s careful attention to detail, “willingness to help” attitude, ability to interact with a wide variety of ages and personalities, and multi-tasking skills played key roles in the success of the 2008 American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, a fundraiser for the local organization and recognition ceremony for Twin Cities heroes.

“The breakfast went off without a hitch, due to all of Gretchen’s hard work,” says Ted Canova with the American Red Cross, Twin Cities Area Chapter. He credits her “tireless dedication and outstanding attitude” as reasons the breakfast ran so smoothly.

Gretchen coordinated all Heroes nominations, scheduled photo shoots for the winners, put together a photo montage that was played during the breakfast, created and mailed invitations, formed a lengthy guest list, mapped out seating assignments, and helped during the event.

“She had it all covered,” Ted says.

Not only did she take care of details prior to the breakfast, she went out of her way to jazz up the donation boxes at each table the morning of the event, applying red ribbon to each one to form little “red crosses.” 

Her organizational abilities, patience, resilience, and caring personality helped keep everyone happy during a very successful Red Cross Heroes Breakfast.

Frank Mackondy

Smile Network International

Petty annoyances that drive some people up the wall roll easily off Frank Mackondy’s back. He focuses on what he’s grateful for–and how blessed he is–rather than dwelling on the negative.

“When you look into his eyes, you know unequivocally that he is a man of great empathy and kindness,” says Kim Valentini of Smile Network International.

Frank, thankful for his family, his career (he owns local restaurants I Nonni and Buon Giorno) his health, and his friendships, felt it was his turn to pay those good fortunes forward and give back.
After seeing a Kare 11 news story highlighting Smile Network International, a Minnesota-based nonprofit humanitarian organization providing reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children in developing countries, he felt moved to take action. He got in touch with the organization and proposed a fundraiser of an Italian four-course dinner for 100 guests–combining his love for people and his passion for food and wine–and soon thereafter, “Mangia for a Mission” was born.

Backed by his executive chef Filippo Caffari, his family, and the staff of Buon Giorno (who volunteered their time and talents), the event sold out in a few days. 

“When all was said and done, Frank created an event that restored joy and dignity to 90 children who were desperately waiting for surgeries that will change their lives forever,” Kim comments.

Frank will travel with Smile Network International to Lima, Peru this winter to witness firsthand how his generosity and compassion gave so many children new hope for health and happiness.

Thomas Schnettler

American Heart Association’s Heart & Stroke Gala: Number Thirteen

With Tom Schnettler, an idea is never “just” an idea; a solution never “just” a solution. He realizes every idea has the potential to become an innovative solution,if given the support, respect, encouragement and open mind it deserves.

As chair of the 2007 American Heart Association’s Heart & Stroke Gala: Number Thirteen, Tom used this out-of-the-box thinking to re-energize an already strong and successful event. The president and chief operating officer of Piper Jaffray thought big and never used the word “no” while strategizing how to infuse new life into the black tie gala. One of his ideas was to replace the all-too-familiar silent auction with a creative “buy a box” auction, leading to auction items selling out in a record-setting hour!

“Three words I would use to describe Tom are courageous, committed, and compassionate,” says Heather Shetka with the American Heart Association. “His commitment and personal support of the organization invigorated the event and increased revenue by 37 percent, raising a record $745,000 for the American Heart Association.”

Tom’s passionate belief in the mission of the AHA–to reduce disability and death from heart attack and stroke–along with his sincere, compassionate, and fun personality–made the event a success from start to finish.