Alexandria’s Dean Krebs can remember back to the very first meeting ever held on the topic of hosting a huge youth outdoor activity day in the area more than five years ago.
Pulling off an event that today has grown to bring in more than 2,000 kids on the last Sunday in August would have seemed like too much of a task for many, but Gene Sullivan was right there with Krebs to lay the groundwork for the event.
“The very first meeting we had, it was Gene and me. Just the two of us,” Krebs said. “Look at what has happened to that event today. A good part of that was Gene’s tireless efforts in getting all the details taken care of. Asking someone to donate their time to do something like that and having that person do it is rare today.”
That’s who Sullivan was -- a doer. Now the Viking Sportsmen and the outdoor community in Alexandria will have some big shoes to fill in that regard after Sullivan died at the St. Cloud Hospital on the morning of Sept. 7 at the age of 68. A celebration of life will be held Sept. 18 from 4-6 p.m. at The Eagles Club at 526 N Nokomis Street in Alexandria.
Sullivan’s death is part of what has been a tough year for those close to the Viking Sportsmen after another longtime board member, Belinda Wink, died unexpectedly on May 6.
Sullivan and Wink were close friends who both shared a passion for volunteering their time to outdoor-related events around Douglas County.
“To lose two icons in a short period of time, both within our organization and in the outdoor community, it leaves a big hole,” current Viking Sportsmen president Chris Kleine said. “But they’ve also laid the groundwork. There’s a clear blueprint for us to follow, so their legacy will be there to follow.”
Sullivan was a longtime member of the board of directors for the Viking Sportsmen. He served as the club president very recently up until January of this year.
“I think Gene was one of those who was kind of a little bit under the radar, but he was a doer,” Krebs said. “He just got things done in terms of the mission statements for Viking Sportsmen and Youth Outdoor Activity Day. He poured his heart and soul into making phone calls, making contacts, getting things lined up with people and none of those organizations would be what they are today without Gene.”
Krebs said it is hard to overstate how important people like Sullivan are to an outdoor organization. It’s not easy taking on new projects, making phone calls and asking for money for donations year after year, but it’s important work in order to get things done.
“There’s only so many people who have the time and the passion to do it,” Krebs said. “All organizations are looking for people like that, so when you have some of those people, it’s critical. They’re so valuable to an organization. Gene has been for such a long time.”
Kleine, who at 35-years-old still considers himself relatively new to the Viking Sportsmen, came to know Sullivan as someone who was always willing to share his opinion on matters and always had the club’s best interest at heart.
“That’s what we loved about Gene,” Kleine said. “You always knew what side of the fence he was on, whether you agreed with it or not. He never did anything that in his mind was not for the benefit of the club.”
With his interest in almost every aspect of the Viking Sportsmen, he was willing to take on a role in nearly everything the club did.
“A prime example is the senior fish fry with (former event organizer) Arlene Bosek,” Kleine said. “He was close with Arlene Bosek and upon her passing, he stepped up. Sonya Anderson took over Arlene’s role, but from a Viking Sportsmen perspective, Gene stepped in and made sure that Arlene’s legacy was carried on through that event. With his involvement in walleye stocking, fish fries, Youth Outdoor Activity Day, he had his fingers in everything. There’s going to be a little bit of Gene at every single one of these events because his involvement was so great.”
Friends and club members of the Viking Sportsmen will gather at the Hardwoods property the club owns north of Alexandria on the evening of Sept. 18. It will be a chance to get together and share stories of Sullivan in the kind of outdoor setting he cared so much about.
“That particular property was near and dear to Gene’s heart,” Kleine said. “He spoke highly of it. He had great visions for this property and it being a gathering place for not only Viking Sportsmen members, but youth as that project evolves. I don’t think there’s a better way for a group of people who love Gene to come together and share stories and be outside and just share the legacy that Gene stood for.”