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Lifetime of Service Earns Blesener MCEA’s Highest Honor

Former ISD 728 Director of Community Engagement Charlie Blesener will be the first to tell you – he’s just as lucky to have found ISD 728 as the District was to find him.

That relationship – District and community leader, father and stakeholder, made Charlie an invaluable member of ISD 728 throughout four decades, as Charlie created one of the most innovative and well-supported Community Education programs in Minnesota.

For his work – and for his leadership – Blesener was honored by the Minnesota Community Education Association this month with the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” It’s the highest honor any member – past or present – can receive.

And, unfortunately, Blesener was going to be in Arizona when it was time to receive it! He retired from ISD 728 about five years ago.

“Wouldn’t you know it’s the first one of these [Lifetime Achievement Award presentations] I’m gonna miss, and it’s MINE,” he told a group at the Handke Family Center on Friday, Feb. 11. “Funny how that works out.”

Blesener came to Elk River from Tracy, Minnesota, where he grew up and first forayed into community activity – working as an intern in the city’s parks and rec department. From there, he helped begin a new community education program in Litchfield, before winding up coming to ISD 728. Elk River became home – and still is – for Charlie and his wife. His sons, graduates of ERHS, have since spread out over the country, but he has moved from a home on the river to a new home on Lake Orono.

“We love it here, and have since we arrived. Really, the support here is special. People see our Community Education program as a way to find out about things in our community and a way to meet people – and that’s what we were really aiming for when we got this thing rolling.”

Blesener has been an integral part of ISD 728 beyond that world, also helping with Strategic Planning and elections. He became the District’s first Director of Community Engagement – shaping the role into one of communicator and mediator.

“We truly wouldn’t be what we are without his vision and collaboration with our city leaders and residents,” said Cory Franson, current Community Engagement director. “Charlie was an innovator. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

Superintendent Dan Bittman, Elk River Mayor John Dietz, fellow retired employees, family, friends and current ISD 728 staff joined Franson in honoring Blesener on Feb. 11 with a small presentation that was shared with the MCEA board and membership for their annual conference this month.

“I’d like to say that I would love to be there with all off you – and while that’s partially true, I highly recommend retirement,” Blesener said with a chuckle. “It’s been amazing so far.”