BEMIDJI -- John W. Baer was president of Security Bank USA in Bemidji for more than three decades, successfully leading it into the 21st century.

His impact on the community has extended far beyond the business, as he’s been involved in several local programs as well.

On Thursday, both his skills in business and dedication to the community were honored by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce with the Charlie Naylor Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor is named after the late Charlie Naylor, who owned Naylor Electric and was president of the Bemidji Development Corp.

“I’m very proud to be able to receive this,” Baer said in a video during the Chamber’s annual meeting, which was conducted virtually. “We’re very fortunate as a business to be in this community. Bemidji is extraordinary. It’s made up of wonderful men, women and families who are strong and talented.”

Baer began working at Security Bank USA in 1967 and became its president in 1979. Over the course of his time as president until 2014, he oversaw the relocation of Security Bank USA’s headquarters to Paul Bunyan Drive.

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Outside of the bank, Baer served as president of the Bemidji Jaycees, was a board member for the Minnesota Jaycees, and earned the title of Jaycees Man of the Year. He was also a past chair for the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota and served as a member on the Independent Community Bankers of America board.

Additionally, Baer was a member of the Bemidji Development Board, Bemidji Town and Country Club Board, BSU Foundation, and BSU National Capital Campaign. He also started the Security Bank USA Lumberjack Scramble in 1995, which has raised nearly $800,000 for the Bemidji High School and Bemidji Middle School to date.

“Through the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people,” Baer said. “They are the bank and have been the bank. We’re very lucky.”

Baer follows Tom Welle, who earned the Charlie Naylor award in 2019, and Andy Wells in 2018. Along with the lifetime achievement honor, Thursday’s Chamber event also recognized the winners of the annual Awards of Excellence.

Winners this year included:

New leadership

The Chamber’s annual awards are usually held each spring, but were pushed back this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the Chamber created a special annual meeting this year, which merged the awards ceremony with the organization’s annual gala, which usually takes place in early fall.

At the conclusion of the awards recognition segment, the Chamber moved to business it would normally handle during its fall event, including the welcoming of the new Board Chair, Caralee Nowak of Pinnacle Marketing Group.

In her remarks as the new chair, Nowak described where the Chamber fits in to making Bemidji successful.

“The first component is people, and we’re blessed to live in an area of such amazingly talented, giving and hardworking people,” Nowak said. “The second component to success is the ability to provide great people the resources, platforms and opportunities to produce. For our business community, that’s where the Chamber comes in.”

Nowak continued her comments by talking about how the business community responded during the pandemic so far.

“It is through some of our toughest times that we expose our greatest strengths,” Nowak said. “If there’s one thing about COVID, it’s that it exposed many of our community’s strengths all at once. We need to continue to recognize and capture these strengths and work together to support our local economy.”