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Cancer, company create crowd at ice fishing event

These children were hanging out on a bunk bed in a fish house at Fishing for the Cure Feb. 16. (From left) Key Lee Krienke, 5, Charlotte Krienke, 3, Aubree Glover, 6, Avery Steidl, 1, and Taylor Stiedl, 4. (Ross Evavold / Osakis Review)1 / 5
Brittany Johnson sells tickets to Tana Wirtjes of Millerville and Tiffanie Tesch of Alexandria, who were inside this portable fish house, during the Fishing for the Cure ice fishing challenge on Smith Lake. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)2 / 5
This grill was getting a workout from a group of participants, while volunteer Brenda Solum unspools raffle tickets for a buyer at left. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)3 / 5
Paige Velde, 3, examined the catch while her sister Hannah, 5, of Carlos adjusted her cap on the way to play in the snow. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)4 / 5
Derek Steidl of Alexandria was sent running to find a ruler Saturday to measure this northern that was caught during the ice fishing challenge. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)5 / 5

Jon Velde jumped at the chance to participate in an ice fishing event organized by Alexandria Industries employees a dozen years ago.

He had two big reasons for climbing on board that very first year. It was for a very worthwhile cause, a fundraiser to fight cancer, and then there was the way the money was being raised.

"I love fishing," he said Saturday, during the 13th annual Fishing for the Cure on Smith Lake. "This is just a bonus."

The bonus is that the company he works for uses the event to raise money for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. It raised so much last year — $57,500, according to the company — that it was recognized by the American Cancer Society with a Nationwide Team of Excellence award for raising the most money from any of the Relay events held in Minnesota in 2018, and ranked 68th in the entire United States.

"I think cancer has pretty much touched everybody's lives," said Velde, a tooling specialist who has worked at Alexandria Industries for 25 years.

Fishing for the Cure has grown tremendously since that first year of the event, which drew just over 100 participants. That year the company raised $620.

By 2018, 1,351 people could be found on Smith Lake, near Osakis, during Fishing for the Cure, and that was in spite of powerful winds that made for a chilly winter day.

While this year's temperatures barely made it into the single digits, the wind wasn't howling, causing a few more people to venture out of their fish houses.

"I'm enjoying the nice weather," said Marianne Muyres of Long Prairie. "It's actually pretty nice out. Last year was horrible."

Still, the lake was full of people who have made this an annual event. Carrie Velde of Carlos, whose husband Andrew is employed at Alexandria Industries, said you can count her in on an event such as this because it raises so much money for the American Cancer Society.

"That is an awesome cause," she said.

Nearly as many people, 1,231, took part Saturday, and Patty Hoffman of Alexandria Industries was especially pleased that 208 of that number were children.

"One of our goals is to grow our future fishermen and women," she said.

The company had established a hefty goal of raising $100,000 in 2019. Hoffman said Monday that it will take them a few days to compile the figures.

"We're confident that we did well," she said, noting the event stirs pride among employees.

"You just walk with your head held a little higher," Hoffman said, adding that the event aligns with one of the company's core values. "It has resonated with a lot of people and they feel that vibe."