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Thatsa spicy meatball wins taste test in Laporte 'First' fundraiser

Noah Reimer, 5, of Kabekona, sampled meatballs he couldn't quite stuff into his mouth. His older brother is a paramedic on the Lakeport First Responders squad. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
Event organizer Karren Arvidson made sure she stabbed a few meatballs from each entry. It was discovered too late two contestants' meatballs were all gone before the judges tried them. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 3
Head school cook Debbie Roller heated up a plate of meatballs for the judges. Each meatball had a number assigned, so the taste tests were blind ones. The four local pastors who served as judges didn't know all the contestants came from two local parishes. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 3

Hometown heroes aren't always those who march off to war on foreign soil.

They frequently live among us, coming to our needs in our most desperate hours.

Sunday Laporte honored its hometown heroes in a uniquely Minnesota nice way: a feast of meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy.

The community came together to hold a fundraiser for the Lakeport Area First Responders.

The lure? A meatball contest.

"You can always raise money if there's a good cause," said Hubbard County board chair Lyle Robinson, downing his second plate of meatballs.

Problem was, the meatballs went so fast they were gone by 1 p.m. and the event was scheduled to run until 3.

Fortunately, the crowd came directly from church. Someone in the pulpit obviously warned them.

Organizer Karren Arvidson was horrified to discover that two contestants' meatballs didn't ever find their way to the judges. They were scarfed up before she had a chance to save a few for the blind taste test.

The judges were four local pastors, Steve Ware, Steve Daggett, Carl Jenson and Randy Reimer. That's why the event started at noon. The judges, contestants and attendees all had a prior commitment.

And the 11 contestants all came from two local parishes that duked it out for top honors.

"We are asking for divine guidance," Jenson said.

And what were the judges looking for in the perfect meatball?

"Consistency," suggested Reimer.

"Meat," suggested the others. Come again?

"I've eaten meatballs that were mostly bread," Daggett explained.

The event got some major momentum when Debbie Roller, the Laporte School head cook, got involved, recruiting meatball chefs to display their finest.

Arvidson said the First Responders play a vital role in the rural community that is miles away from the nearest hospital.

The former surgery nurse who worked in operating rooms for 35 years is now Laporte's school nurse.

She started attending First Responders meetings to learn first-aid basics.

"I didn't know how to splint in the field," she said.

Attending the squad's monthly training sessions gave her valuable refresher skills, Arvidson explained.

In doing so, she realized what a lifesaving role the squad played in the community and outlying region.

Dwight Powell was one of those heroes honored Sunday. He's been a First Responder nine years.

"This is a totally volunteer organization," he told the dozens of people assembled. "Our average response time is five minutes. We cover 236 square miles."

On average, Powell said he gets around two calls a week that can last more than an hour each.

He and other squad members drive their own vehicles to the scene, whether it's a heart attack, a car accident or any medical emergency. They bandage wounds, splint fractures, administer oxygen and CPR.

He put on 1,500 miles last year, Powell said. None of the 15 Lakeport First Responders gets reimbursement for their mileage.

"When we're done we basically pack up our equipment and go back to our lives," he said.

Many people came up to shake Powell's hand and thank him after the brief ceremony. He explained what the display of equipment did for victims in the field. The fundraiser will buy them more equipment.

Linda Beck was unofficially crowned the meatball maven. Her spicy meatballs in a tropical mango sauce were the winners hands down.

"I figured everybody would make Swedish meatballs," she reasoned in baking her treats served on a toothpick.

Well, there was a variety. There were barbecued meatballs, sweet and sour meatballs, porcupine meatballs, cannonball-sized meatballs and tiny spheres.

"I never expected to win," said Beck, showing off the baking pans she won.

"It's for the community. We've had to call them (First Responders) before when my husband had back problems. We'll do anything to give back."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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