Sam Williams of Alexandria wins Super Dad Photo Contest

The second place winner is Travis Cain and the third place winner is Eli Dotts.

Sam Williams of Alexandria (top right), winner of the Super Dad Photo Contest, is shown with his family, including (top, from left) his daughter, Syri; wife, Anje; (bottom, from left) daughter, MacKinney; daughter, Anja; and son, Sammy. (Contributed photo)

When Anja Williams was just 4-years-old, her dad, Sam Williams, was deployed to Iraq. Anja, the now 19-year-old from Alexandria, vividly remembers the phone calls they would share and how her dad would ask her to sing to him.

“I would make up songs about anything I could see and as I would do that, he would continue to cheer me on and encourage me,” she said. “And to this day, that is exactly what he does. He is my number one fan.”

Because Anja feels everyone deserves to know more about her dad and how great he is, she entered him in the Super Dad Photo Contest sponsored by the Echo Press, along with Pro Ag Country Store, Elden’s Fresh Foods and Ace Hardware.

And now people are going to learn more about her dad as he was the first place winner. He won a $250 gift card from Pro Ag Country Store.


Anja Williams, 19, of Alexandria, is pictured with her dad, Sam Williams, on her graduation day in 2020. Anja nominated Sam for the Super Dad Photo Contest and he was chosen as the winner. (Contributed photo)

An Army family

Master Sgt. Sam Williams, spent 10 years active duty in the U.S. Army and 15 years with the Minnesota Army National Guard. He doesn’t say that he has been in the Army for 25 years, but says, “We have been in the Army for 25 years,” because, he said, everyone in the family sacrifices and serves.

Besides Anja, Sam and his wife, Anje, have three other children – MacKinney, 24; Syri, 22; and Sammy, 15.

Sam is currently serving in the Office of the State Surgeon as a non-commissioned officer in charge. His office oversees the medical readiness of the entire Minnesota Army National Guard. Medical readiness includes pre- and post-deployment, vision, hearing, dental, immunizations, labs, physicals, admin tracking of injuries, bill paying and medical boards.

Sam Williams is pictured with his three daughters in 2005 right before he left for Iraq. MacKinney, now 24, is on the left; Anja, now 19, is in the middle; and Syri, now 22, is right. (Contributed photo)

The Williams family has served active duty in Fort Irwin, Calif.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; and also spent a one-year tour in Korea.


Sam was deployed to Iraq for 21 months.

“That 21 months was unexpected and very challenging,” said Sam. “But thankfully our faith and support from family and friends, along with pure grit, got all of us through that extended deployment.”


Anja said some of her dad’s best qualities are that he is selfless, is always putting others before himself and he makes sure that everyone’s needs are met.

“He is genuine and he makes time for everyone, even strangers,” said Anja, who noted that her dad is her best friend. “He is a leader, always stepping up to lead when it's needed. And he is so loving, always showing us how much he cares and loves us.”

When Sam found out he won, he said it took a few seconds to sink in.

“I was incredibly humbled that my daughter thought that I was a Super Dad,” said Sam. “I was even more humbled after they explained to me that friends and family chose to vote for me.”

Anja Williams and her dad, Sam Williams, at a vintage car show in Long Prairie. (Contributed photo)


Sam explained how he found out about the contest and that he was a winner.

On Father’s Day, the family had returned home that evening after celebrating his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary in Rice. He said the family was sitting around the kitchen table reconnecting as they hadn’t got to spend much time together the last few months.

He said Anja returned home June 14 from Ecuador, where she worked with Youth With a Mission for about six months. And, his wife and son had just returned the night before from a weeklong mission trip to Alaska with the Alexandria Covenant Church.

“This was our chance to catch up with each other after being apart for so long,” said Sam.

While they were catching up, Sam said Anja handed him an envelope and that inside was a printed email from the newspaper notifying Anja that her photo submission had won.

“I had no idea that this submission had been made on my behalf and I was shocked, surprised and honored,” said Sam.


Over the years, Anja said she has learned many things from her dad, including to fall in love with the unknown and to love the adventure along the way. She also learned to “just go for it,” she said.

She said the best piece of advice she ever received from her dad is to not let the fear of something hinder her from experiencing what could be something amazing.


She shared that when her family goes out to eat, her dad always tries different meals – even if it is a crazy dish. She said Sam calls it a “culinary safari.”

“He is adventurous,” Anja said, noting that is where she gets it from.

Anja Williams, who nominated her dad, Sam Williams for the Super Dad Photo Contest, is pictured with him at a Lincoln Elementary School family picnic in 2007, when she was in first grade. (Contributed photo)

A firm foundation

Sam said his family is central to his life and daily, they influence the actions and decisions he makes. He is always looking for ways to meet their physical, emotional, spiritual and financial needs.

The best part of being a dad, though, is seeing the hard work pay off of building a firm foundation of faith and service to others while equipping his children to face challenges that they will encounter later in life.

He shared some examples of service and sacrifice his family have demonstrated over the years, including when the family decided to welcome foster children into their home, time spent volunteering at church or when his children have gone on mission trips to Haiti with him.


“Three of my four kids have gone with me to Haiti, where we helped to build homes for those in need,” said Sam. “When they do these kinds of activities, it makes me so very proud of them.”

Advice for new dads

Sam would like to encourage all new dads to constantly model what right looks like, as he said kids will do what they see, not what they hear.

He suggested taking lots of photos and he said to prepare, equip and challenge kids to make the world a better place.

New fathers – and all fathers in general – should love their children unconditionally, while also communicating expectations and setting boundaries, advised Sam.

“Realize that each child is unique and will respond differently to time together, gifts, words of affirmation, a pat on the back or even an act of service,” he said.

Lastly, Sam’s advice included sharing meals together, reading books together, praying together and reading the Bible together because a firm father will “get them through the storms of life.”

More super dads

Travis Cain was nominated by his mother-in-law, Emily Larson. He was the second place winner. Larson said she nominated him because he shows his super hero love for her grandchildren with hugs, kisses and fun while also showing them discipline, guidance and support.

“He sees parenting as a partnership with a lifelong commitment and makes every day special,” Larson said.


Travis Cain, nominated by his mother-in-law, was the second place winner in the Super Dad Photo Contest. (Contributed photo)

Cain won a $100 gift card from Elden’s Fresh Foods.

Eli Dotts, who was the third place winner, was nominated by his wife, Megan Dotts. She said she nominated him because of how great a dad he is to their little girl, Darlene.

Eli Dotts, pictured with his daughter, Darlene, was the third place winner in the Super Dad Photo Contest. (Contributed photo)

“Darlene’s wish is his command,” she said. “And the love they have for each other is evident with the huge smile she gives as soon as he enters the room.”

Dotts won a $100 gift card from Ace Hardware.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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