Bruce Helgeson Takes on challenges to help his community

Every town needs a Bruce Helgeson.

The Wood Lake resident grew up in the small Yellow Medicine County community of 400. He attended Wood Lake High School, and after his sophomore year, it paired with Echo in what was the state’s first sharing agreement.

He received a business administration degree from Southwest Minnesota State University in 1983 and returned to Wood Lake, working at State Bank of Wood Lake (now First Independent Bank) before opening Helgeson Insurance Agency in 1995.

As a hometown guy, he’s been involved in numerous groups, organizations and projects, and as a community cornerstone, he has seen firsthand the challenges that small rural communities face.

That’s why he got involved early on, and why he continues to be an influential community supporter all these years later.

He has been a first responder for 40 years, and was a 20-year member of the fire department, two as fire chief.

More recently, he became involved with the Minnesota Make-A-Wish Foundation, a volunteer activity he finds very rewarding.

“A friend had a niece involved with Make-A-Wish who was giving a presentation at SMSU. I attended; that’s how I got involved.”

In that role he meets with Make-A-Wish families, gathers detailed information about the individual requesting the wish, and sends that paperwork to the state headquarters in St. Paul. It is there that the decision is made whether to fund the request. It can take up to a year for that decision to be made, he said.

“I’m a go-between, a facilitator,” he said. “Make-A-Wish holds a gala each year that raises about a million dollars, and there’s corporate support for its mission, too.”

A local example is Wood Lake resident Landyn Berends, a heart transplant recipient whose wish was to go fishing and enjoy the beauty of Alaska back in 2020.

“He went for a week, fished for halibut and did some sight-seeing,” said Helgeson.

He’s been involved with five requests that were granted. One still remains difficult for him, however.

“There was someone who wanted to swim with the dolphins in Florida. The wish was granted, but they passed away before they were able to go. That one was tough,” he said.

He was instrumental in starting the Lakeview Schools Booster Club in Cottonwood, where his three children attended. It is primarily funded by pull-tab sales, and proceeds split between the school and the communities of Wood Lake and Cottonwood.

“It helps fund things like educational field trips, uniforms, athletic and co-curricular activities,” he explained. “Not all the money goes to the school. Money from the club helped build the gazebo in the town park, and has gone to the fire department, improvements at the Community Center, things like that.”

The Southwest Prairie Outdoors Club is also an organization he helped start.

“It fundraises dollars to improve fishing and hunting opportunities in the area,” he said.

The club purchased two aerators for area lakes, and put in two fishing docks on Wood Lake. It has funded fish-stocking. The group has also sponsored archery classes for youth, and purchased bow and arrows for area schools.

Helgeson and his wife, Kristi, are the parents of three children: Josh, Clara City; Tim, Wood Lake; and Kelsey Laleman, Cottonwood. They have eight grandchildren, and when he isn’t following their various athletic pursuits, he finds time to cross the street to his “Chop’s Shop” building, headquarters for the Southwest Prairie Outdoors Club.

“Chop” is a nickname he’s had since his early days in Wood Lake, he said. There’s a “man-cave” front room in “Chop’s Shop,” where meetings are held, and in the back, a larger woodworking shop, a passion he inherited from his father. He’s looking at retirement soon, and said that will give him more time to do woodworking projects.

He’s seen the town change over the years.

“It’s more of a bedroom community now,” he said. “I used to know everyone in town, but that’s not the case now. There’s no grocery store, and banking can be done online. You don’t see the interaction you used to.”

Wood Lake is home, a place he’s comfortable in and where he’s made a difference.

“I like this area, and want to do what I can to keep the town active,” said Helgeson.


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