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Chamber volunteers inspire others

Every year at the annual Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce dinner, three individuals are given awards for their service to the Chamber. This year Andres Gonzalez was named the Chamber Ambassador of the Year, A.J. Axtell was named Fuse Person of the...

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Every year at the annual Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce dinner, three individuals are given awards for their service to the Chamber. This year Andres Gonzalez was named the Chamber Ambassador of the Year, A.J. Axtell was named Fuse Person of the Year and David Jensch was named Chamber Volunteer of the Year.

Fuse Person of the Year: A.J. Axtell

Eight years ago, A.J. Axtell was new to her job and the Duluth community.

"I was looking for a way to get involved and network with people who weren't my coworkers. How do you build that professional community in Duluth?" Axtell said.

She soon found her answer: Fuse Duluth. She became very involved with Fuse from the start and found herself taking on more leadership roles, including serving as the Fuse Leadership Council chair until August of this year. And she must be doing something right, because she was selected as the 2015 Person of the Year in October by her peers. A division of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Fuse focuses on providing resources and recruiting young talent. The award honors someone who has contributed to Fuse Duluth's mission and leadership.

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"When you work with volunteers, people can really define how much involvement they're going to have. But A.J. never missed a meeting," said Fuse Director Martha Bremer. "She was really involved in every step of the way throughout the year and made a phenomenal effort."

According to Bremer, Axtell went "above and beyond" to develop and execute events and educational offerings for young professionals of the Northland, resulting in the highest program participation level in Fuse history. Events created by the team this year included lunchtime bus history tour of the city, a cruise of the harbor and the 10th anniversary party.

"That was so much fun! We turned the anniversary party into a 'Taste of Duluth.' We held it at the Clyde Iron Works and invited several local restaurants and breweries to offer bites of food and drinks for people to sample. People could mingle and eat and celebrate everything that's good about Fuse and Duluth," Axtell said.

Axtell works as an environmental program coordinator at Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, mostly focusing on community outreach. She also serves on the Human Development Center board, participates in the Junior League and is the mother of 4-month-old twins.

"She's really an amazing individual and she always has a positive attitude and she just goes for it," Bremer said. "I think she inspires people. Because if she can do all that and volunteer, anyone can find some time in their schedule."

Chamber Volunteer of the Year: David Jensch

David Jensch, Northland's NewsCenter station manager, has served and volunteered in the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce for more than 12 years. This year he was honored as Chamber Volunteer of the Year.

"When we're picking the Volunteer of the Year, we look at our volunteers level and length of service. The length of David's service is one of the reasons he was chosen this year. This award sometimes recognizes one year of incredible service or to a person who has sustained a level of excellence in the Chamber over many years," said Chamber president David Ross.

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Jensch has served on the Chamber board of directors which included serving as chair of the board for one year, and past-president for three years. In addition to his work on the executive board, Jensch serves on two committees. With the military affairs committee, Jensch has lobbied on behalf of the 148th Fighter Wing. He and his fellow committee members have traveled to Washington D.C. several times to meet with elected officials and representatives of the Department of Defense.

"I think working with the military affairs committee is one of the best things I've done with the Chamber. It's a nice way for me to give back to the military and to honor my father who was a WWII combat veteran," Jensch said.

Jensch also lobbies with the Chamber at the state level. He has lead lobbying teams to St. Paul during Duluth and St. Louis Days at the Capitol.

Jensch has a passion for local business and worked with the Chamber to create the "Buy Local" ads that appear on Northland's NewsCenter.

"Localism is critical to the business community. Some people don't think twice before they buy something online, when there's a local business that has that exact same product just down the street. Buying locally puts money in the pockets of your friends and neighbors," Jensch said.

Jensch also serves on the Local Initiatives Support Corporation board and Greater Downtown Council board.

When not serving on a board, committee or council, Jensch spends time with his wife in the outdoors. He loves to hunt and fish and helps his wife with their small farm in Esko.

"We ride horses together and tend to the cows. That's one part of me that people wouldn't see. Because I normally wear a suit, you probably don't picture me riding a horse," Jensch said.

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