When Anna Huthmaker of Huthmaker Violins heard three years ago that the Duluth Police Department was planning to shelve its annual awards ceremony and banquet in the face of budget cuts, she was aghast.
“All they do for us in Duluth, GA, and they refused to sacrifice any of those services. They chose rather to sacrifice their own banquet." Anna couldn't let that happen, and began contacting local business owners to solicit donations to keep it going.
“The first year, we raised just enough to keep it alive. They put what little extra was there into a fund for the following year,” Anna said. “We got a little more the following year, and they did the same thing.”
The donations for the project, now officially known as “Project Appreciation,” have come in the form of cash, discounts on services (catering and awards) for the event, and real-time help to organize it. This year’s support included the donation of a cruise for a door prize in addition to record donations of more than $3,500.
Some of the funds were dedicated to taking care of the needs of "Alf," the canine member of the force.
Uniformed police, supervisors, support personnel, and civilian employees were recognized at the noontime banquet in late January at the Duluth Public Safety Center. Chief Randy Belcher proudly presented commendations to honorees who performed in outstanding ways over the previous year.
The luncheon began with a recitation of the “Policeman’s Prayer” followed by Chief Belcher’s expression of gratitude to the community leaders, business owners and other citizens of Duluth for their contributions.
Here's the gratitude that the force felt for this outpouring of community support in their own words:
"We are very appreciative of Ms. Huthmaker and our other friends and business owners who donated money towards our awards banquet this year. It’s heartwarming to think that this group of people came together because they didn’t want their police department to go without something that was so important to them. The awards banquet is the highlight of the year for our police department, and thanks to the generosity of Ms. Huthmaker and the others, it can continue.
"Being recognized by your peers is one thing, but when the people you serve step forward and do something like this, it’s an absolute honor. Being a police officer can sometimes be a thankless job, but to know we have such strong support from our community makes us proud, and it reminds us of why we do the job in the first place."
Project Appreciation is but one of the fires in which Anna has her irons. In addition to her full time duties at Huthmaker violins, she is the founding member and “Grande Dame” of Trail Dames, a group of “ladies of a curvy nature” that she formed to encourage and participate in hikes all over the country.
Initially a way for Anna to have company on her many hikes, Trail Dames has now grown to include 10 national chapters comprised of roughly 2,400 members. Anna has hiked with nearly all chapters and plans to add two more to her list this year. “I think I’ll have all of them but Maine by the end of the year,” she said. The administrative aspect alone of this endeavor requires several hours per day on the computer, and often a full 10 hours on Saturdays, provided she isn’t on a hike.
Somehow, however, Anna has managed to find more time. The cause that she seems most enthusiastic about lately is Luthiers Sans Frontières (Luthiers Without Borders), an organization dedicated to “providing repair services to musicians, orchestras and ensembles in areas where no local services are available.”
Anna, a musician herself, has traveled to Haiti and Ecuador to repair and restore violins and rehair violin bows, all while training the local luthiers how to do some of the work as well. “To see the dedication and love that these musicians have for the instrument is wonderful,” Anna said. “They just have no resources whatsoever to keep the instruments in the shape they want.”
The venture requires traveling with tools and replacement parts for violins, all of which are donated. In return, Anna and the other luthiers sometimes get somewhere to stay while abroad. “I slept on the floor of a former church in Ecuador,” she said. “When you’re a hiker, that’s a luxury.”
While the international organization is very small (consisting of four men going on occasional “musical missions” before Anna joined), she has begun to form a larger branch LSF-USA, based in the United States.
Anna is quick to note that without the support of her parents, Roland and Dixie Huthmaker, who keep the violin store running and in tune, she couldn't undertake these projects. “They’ve been great about allowing me the time to take on the other projects”, she said. “They understand how important these things are to me and have worked very hard to allow me to branch out.”
With a limited number of hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a year, one wonders where it all ends. How far does Anna think she can take her various projects? “I’ll keep going until I crack,” she said. For the sake of such concerns as the Duluth Police Department, let’s hope that doesn’t happen for a long time.