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Three Northland peacemakers honored

Seven years ago at Duluth East High School, when a group called the Gay Straight Alliance formed, its promotional banners would get torn down. "It was pretty tough," adviser Greg Morse said of that time and the fear students lived with. Today, th...

Northland peacemakers honored
Greg Morse accepted a Men As Peacemakers Award on Tuesday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

Seven years ago at Duluth East High School, when a group called the Gay Straight Alliance formed, its promotional banners would get torn down.

"It was pretty tough," adviser Greg Morse said of that time and the fear students lived with.

Today, the banners stay up and the group has gained respect and eased fears of being who you are at the school, he said. All along, Morse has been there to guide students.

That's the reason Principal Laurie Knapp "didn't even have to stop to think" about nominating Morse for a Men As Peacemakers award this year.

"Peacemakers are heroes," Knapp told those gathered at a dinner honoring three "Peacemaker Awards" recipients Tuesday night at Clyde Iron Works. "He opened his heart. He was a peacemaker and a hero."

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Morse received the Gary Gordon Adult award. The fifth-grade teacher at Congdon Elementary volunteers each Monday afternoon with the Gay Straight Alliance.

Knapp said the school once was not a safe place to be for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth. Morse met with the alliance, she said, "providing guidance, understanding, love and support for students who faced adversity every day because of who they are."

Morse had done similar work at Denfeld High School.

"It's a whole different emotional adventure," he said of the transition from children to teenagers.

"Every year it's become stronger," he said of the alliance as a more diverse group of kids join up. "That's the way it works, to be supported and give support," he said. "The students have always been the stars."

Ed Heisler, director of Men As Peacemakers, said the work Morse has done to make East a safe place is exactly in line with the goals of his group, begun in 1995 to end a string of violence by men in the community.

Youth award to hockey player Heisler said the youth award, given to Marshall School student Jeremy Lopez for his anti-bullying efforts, also exemplifies the group's mission.

"That's right in line with what we're doing," Heisler said.

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Lopez transferred from Proctor High School last year to be at Marshall his senior year. College adviser Katie Voller-Berdan said she knew right away that Lopez was a leader and someone others could look to for creating a welcoming atmosphere at the school.

"Yes, teenagers do care about others' feelings," she said Tuesday.

Lopez said he was honored to receive the Steve Rolland Youth Peacemaker Award.

Lopez joined the boys hockey team and provided leadership when player in-fighting was bogging down the team, coach Brendan Flaherty said. He said Lopez's leadership helped the team turn a losing streak into a winning streak and a berth in the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament.

Lopez was nominated by his teammates for the tournament Hobey Baker high school character award.

He will receive a $1,000 scholarship with the Peacemaker award. If he doesn't land a spot in junior hockey, he'll head to North Dakota State University this fall to study criminology.

The other recipients, Morse and the group Loaves & Fishes, each receive $250.

Group award: Loaves & Fishes

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Loaves & Fishes was well overdue for recognition, Heisler said. It received the Organizational Peacemaker Award.

The housing advocacy group has for 20 years provided housing, food and friendship to thousands of people suffering homelessness or fleeing political persecution or family violence.

Loaves & Fishes put a lot of energy into housing issues in Duluth the past year as the foreclosure crisis continued. It founded "Project Save Our Homes" which helps homeowners fight for housing rights and stop home foreclosures. Members also advocated for Seaway Hotel residents and helped to bring changes to create a more functional low-income living situation.

"It's nice to be able to do something," said Chelsea Froemke, who accepted the award. "We share in the work of others and are thankful for the support."

Adeline Wright volunteers with Loaves & Fishes and nominated the group for the award.

"I have experienced the finest acts of humanity and peacemaking within its walls," she said.

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