50 years of volunteering

Shirley Baumgartner of Cook (second from right, front row) was awarded recently for 50 years of being a volunteer snowmobile instructor.

COOK — Shirley Baumgartner has dedicated her life to being a volunteer snowmobile safety instructor.

One week ago, the 70-year-old from Cook was recognized for giving of her time and passing on her knowledge for all of those years.

“We are really appreciative of people that are so dedicated to the students,’’ Shane Zavodnik, State Game Warden in Cook, said. Fifty years of volunteer instructor service toward the program is just “an unbelievable mark to hit.’’

Baumgartner said she got involved with teaching the snowmobile safety program while working at the Cook and North Woods schools for 30 years. “I knew the kids and it was easy to get the information out.’’

She also jumped into the program because there just weren’t enough volunteers to go around 50 years ago. “At the time, I thought that was something I could do.’’

The current version of the program is offered on Sundays, with students ages 11-15 (mostly 11-13) completing the book work online.

Baumgartner and several other members of the Cook Timberwolves Snowmobile Club then provide the hands-on training on Sundays.

Baumgartner said there aren’t too many such programs in the area and she had 42 sign-up this year — after ordering supplies for 25. The students were from all over the area, including Pine City, Proctor, Hermantown, Cook and more. She added it was the second largest class she has had.

Her course includes a quick review of the material, while the Zavodnik goes over the lawbook with them. Other club members show them the basics of a snowmobile, from changing a belt and a spark plug to emergency starting. After a pre-ride check, the trainers ride on the back, while the students complete a course using hand signals and different riding positions.

“They are so nervous with me sitting behind them,’’ Baumgartner said, but they get better the second time through.

Looking back on 50 years and training hundreds, if not thousands of students, she said, “It’s really turned out to be a really good class. The kids are just amazed when they see that groomer and we get wonderful comments from the parents.’’

She retired from the school three years ago but has continued to work with the program and the kids. She is also working to train in some of the other volunteer instructors. “It’s wonderful to have them step up.’’

The volunteer portion of what Baumgartner does is what Zavodnik finds amazing.

“It’s the simple fact that she doesn’t get paid anything to do this. She does this out of her time.’’ In his time working with Baumgartner, “she seems just as dedicated as the first day she started,’’ he stated.

“It was great to see so many kids involved in the snowmobile safety program,’’ he added.

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