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Local couple makes international impact as volunteers

Members of the Morris Human Rights Committee present Eugene and Darlene Pesche with the 2011 Thomas B. McRoberts Human Rights Award.

MORRIS - While many people think of retirement as a time to relax and settle down after a lifetime of work, Gene and Darlene Pasche of Morris have done the opposite - using the extra time to expand their volunteer activities even further.

Through their connection to Orphan Grain Train, a Christian volunteer network that gathers donations for those in need around the world, the Pasches have helped ship food and supplies as far as Armenia and traveled to New Orleans and Texas to volunteer at sites that distribute the donations they help organize.

Their work with Orphan Grain Train is just one of the reasons the couple was awarded the Thomas B. McRoberts Human Rights Award by the Morris Human Rights Commission earlier this month.

The Pasches were nominated for the award by their church, Zion Lutheran Church in Morris. Gene has been a member of Zion his entire life, and Darlene has been a part of the church since the couple was married in 1964.

"In our congregation at Zion Lutheran Church we have a couple that just serve and serve and serve," said Pastor Jack Baumgarn, speaking on behalf of the nominators. "Gene and Darlene are wonderful people for the community; that's why we nominated them."

"It is a great honor [to receive the award], but the reality is that there are many volunteers working right with us," said Darlene.

"We don't deserve this, there are people that are doing way more than we are," said Gene. "This is what the good Lord has put us here to do. We're saying 'thank you' for all He's done for us."

Now retired, the Pasches dedicate much of their time to volunteer causes in the community that have a global impact.

Darlene, who worked as a registered nurse with public health, has served on the board of Someplace Safe and the Morris Life Care Pregnancy Center, and currently serves on the board for the Morris Public Library and as a Friend of the Library.

Gene, a former mail carrier who retired in 2000, currently serves as director of the Minnesota North Branch of Orphan Grain Train, a Christian volunteer network that gathers donations for those in need and ships around the world.

Orphan Grain Train was founded in 1992 by Rev. Ray S. Wilke, a pastor in Norfolk, Neb. After the Berlin Wall fell, Wilke saw citizens in Latvia and Russia who needed humanitarian aid and assistance. Wilke partnered with Clayton Andrews, president of a worldwide transportation company, to address this need through a new organization, Orphan Grain Train.

Today, Orphan Grain Train has 18 regional branches and has delivered more than 63 million pounds of aid to residents in more than 40 countries around the world.

The Minnesota North Branch - which includes churches in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin - fills about four shipping containers per year with medical supplies, school desks, church furniture, clothing, quilts, and school and health kits.

Here in Morris, Operation Grain Train has a trailer parked by the Salvation Army where donations are collected. The Salvation Army donates clothes that have been on the racks but didn't sell, and local volunteers help pack the donations for shipment to the Minnesota North Branch headquarters in Westfield, Wisc., said Gene.

Part of Gene's work is to figure out the logistics of getting local donations from even more rural areas to Morris and then from Morris to Wisconsin so the donations can be organized, packed and shipped to those in need.

"Transportation is a big thing now for cost," said Gene. "It's pretty neat how we can work together and make that work."

In 2010, containers that were shipped from Westfield ended up everywhere from Armenia to border missions in Texas, which are then donated to communities in Mexico.

But in their retirement, the Pasches haven't been content to just stay in Morris. With Orphan Grain Train they've traveled to New Orleans to help after Hurricane Katrina and make annual trips to two mission sites in Texas that are connected to the organization.

"Orphan Grain Train sends [supplies] to them, and so we wanted to see what the receiving end looked like," said Darlene. "It was a real joy to see that goofy semi back-up - they always put a teddy bear on the end of it."

In New Orleans, the couple spent time at Camp Restore, a church-turned-camp that houses volunteers that are helping to rebuild homes, churches and schools in the area. The Pasches worked on a crew with other volunteers building homes.

"You make some pretty neat friendships through this too," said Gene. "If you could take [people] for a week, basically you're hooked. It can be a lot of fun. Work can be a lot of fun."

"You receive more than you give, really," said Darlene.

"Basically you're just giving back what the Lord's given you," said Gene.

As important as the supplies is the fact that Orphan Grain Train helps spread the Christian message around the world.

"The word goes with it. That's our mission. Where ever we go, the word of God goes with it," said Gene. "And people are receptive to that. If they're fed and warm, they listen."

The Pasches are also advocates for volunteering locally - bell ringing with the Salvation Army, working at the Senior Center, delivering meals with Meals on Wheels, and dedicating time to organizations like Someplace Safe, the Morris Life Care Pregnancy Center, the Friends of the Library, Stevens County Historical Society and others.

"Volunteers bring talents and creative ideas," said Darlene. "There are a lot of things we'd never think of that somebody working beside you thinks of."