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Volunteering to help others in Winnebago

Jim and Merodee Grannis running with W’bago mayor’s idea

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Apr 6, 2021

Jim and Merodee Grannis recently moved back to the Winnebago area and are heading up a new volunteering program in Winnebago which will help folks who might be in need of some volunteer help.

The city of Winnebago’s motto is “A small town with a big heart” and an effort is being made to put the words of the motto into action with the development of an organization of volunteers to aid those in the city who may need a little extra help.

It was an idea Winnebago’s newly elected mayor, Scott Robertson, says he came up with before the first City Council meeting of the year.

“I was inspired by what Genesis Classical Academy did after they purchased the Adolescent Treatment Center in town,” Robertson said. “They used volunteer help to transform the building into a school in just a few months.”

He says there are various reasons why people might be in need of some volunteer help.

“Maybe they are physically unable to do some things, maybe they cannot afford it or do not have the energy,” Robertson comments. “Maybe they are just couped up and could use some aid.”

Having the idea was one thing. How to put a plan into action was another.

“I was talking to one of my landlords, Merodee Grannis, who lives south of Huntley. She and her husband Jim had recently moved back to this area from Wichita, Kansas, and I mentioned my idea about a volunteer organization which would be active in the city of Winnebago to help out residents,” Robertson says. “Merodee mentioned she and her husband had been involved in a similar project in Wichita called “Love Wichita.”

Robertson explains it did not take much convincing for the couple to agree to head up the volunteer program in Winnebago.

“They basically took it and ran with it,” he shares.

Merodee (Nilson) Grannis graduated from Granada-Huntley High School in 1977 while her husband was a graduate of Truman High School.

“We met at the last dance of the season at the Fox Lake Ballroom,” Merodee explains. “We both went to Mankato State University. I was working on an elementary education degree and Jim obtained degrees in computer science and mathematics.”

Merodee says she did not get her degree from MSU.

“I got a job in Wichita with NCR (National Cash Register),” Jim comments. “We got married after the move and Merodee graduated from Wichita State.”

The couple had an interesting start to their married life, according to Jim.

“It was six months after I had started working for NCR and only two weeks after our wedding that I was laid off from my job,” he says. “We thought, what did we get ourselves into?”

Jim was not unemployed for long.

“A week after being laid off I was hired by Boeing Military and was employed there for 35 years before I took early retirement,” Jim shares. “After I retired I taught at a technical college for five years.”

Meanwhile, Merodee obtained her teaching degree and the couple started a family and had their first child, a daughter.

“I started working at our church and helped form a “Mom’s Day Out” group,” Merodee says. “Then members of our church, Grace Presbyterian in Wichita, urged me to start a preschool at the church.”

She explains the school grew and soon had almost 100 kids.

“Next, the congregation decided to add a full-time day care, and I took on that task,” Merodee comments. “Then they wanted a children’s minister an I took that position. During this time we also added two more daughters to our family.”

But, she notes, it was a very positive experience.

“Working with the church ministry afforded me the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful people. Part of the joy I received was playing with kids, but I also loved working with young parents who were looking for answers,” Merodee comments. “Being a volunteer brought me great joy. I loved it. Grace was a fairly large church and we would have over 200 kids in our Vacation Bible School program.”

Jim offers an explanation for the couple’s involvement in various projects.

“It is called the “can’t say no” disease,” he says laughing.

It turns out Merodee was not the only one giving of her time.

“I served on many boards, I have led mission trips for over 20 years and have also done some after-school tutoring,” Jim says. “I was also involved with a store called Economy Corner. It is similar to a Goodwill store. We were located downtown near the city’s homeless population so we were able to serve them.”

Jim explains he was also involved in a bus ticket ministry.

“Once a month we would hand out bus tickets to those who could not afford to pay for the tickets themselves,” he comments.

And now the couple say they are anxious to energize Winnebago residents to volunteer and help others who are in need.

“We came back to the area in the summer of 2019 to live on the farm where I grew up,” Merodee says. “We did a great deal of fixing up and added on to the house. Through the process we met so many wonderful people in Winnebago and Blue Earth who own businesses where we purchased our supplies.”

Jim loved dealing with the local business owners.

“After living in a large city, it is a really nice feeling to walk into a store and have people know who you are,” he says.

Now, after fixing up their house, they are ready for the next challenge.

“Scott asked what we can do,” Merodee comments. “We told him about the “Love Wichita” initiative which involved working in your community. Police officers were aware of who was in need and would let us know.”

The couple has been very happy with the progress which has been made so far.

“The Winnebago City Council and Jacob, the city administrator, have been very receptive,” Jim notes. “It did not take long to get a steering committee in place.”

Currently, the committee is working on identifying projects which could be done and recruiting volunteers.

“The idea is to do projects which can be completed in a day,” Jim explains. “Minor repairs, painting, cleaning a yard are some of the types of things we are looking at. We want to reach people who are physically unable or financially unable to do some simple projects.”

The date of the first Love Winnebago volunteer day has been set for June 5. Robertson hopes there will be more.

“I am hoping this is just a spark that ignites and grows into something bigger,” he states. “I hope it develops into a pay-it-forward scenario.”

Jim and Merodee Grannis say they are just doing what their parents taught them to do.

“I have always been proud of the picture I have of my dad working as a volunteer to help build the swimming pool in Winnebago,” Merodee shares. “My mother always said, ‘Put a smile on your face, learn something, make wise choices and be a good citizen of your community.’ Jim and I decided if we moved back to the area we wanted to be involved in the community and we are happy and thankful for this opportunity.”