Columbia Heights' aw-shucks humanitarian: Helping others is 'something you just do'

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2013 - 2:13 PM

That’s the attitude of Columbia Heights’ Humanitarian of the Year, a retiree who is legally blind and helps others with visual impairments.

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Armin Bruegger, Columbia Heights Humanitarian of the Year, left, with Mayor Gary Peterson.

Photo: City of Columbia Heights,

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For Armin Bruegger, community service isn’t something he does on the side. It’s a part of his everyday life.

More of a doer than a talker, Bruegger, who is legally blind, downplays his efforts to help others as “something you just do.” But many around him have taken notice, and he recently earned Columbia Heights’ Humanitarian of the Year award.

The honor recognizes a resident each year who goes out of his or her way to help others, often working under-the-radar, according to city materials.

Bruegger, 70, doesn’t know who nominated him. He said modestly, “It was a great surprise, something ­unexpected.”

Mayor Gary Peterson, who met Bruegger through the Lions Club nearly a decade ago, said the retired Hennepin County computer programmer embodies the qualities that the award is all about. He’s an example of “someone who does something for the community and asks nothing in return,” Peterson said.

For starters, Bruegger goes all over the place training visually impaired seniors to use ZoomText software, the mayor said.

ZoomText enlarges everything on a computer screen and has a speech feature, allowing people with vision problems to continue using computers even if their sight deteriorates ­further, Bruegger said.

Bruegger, who has been legally blind since birth though he can make out some forms, has long used the program, which was key in his former line of work. In teaching others how to use it, he finds satisfaction knowing that it helps remove limitations for them.

Bruegger also stays busy with a handful of other service-oriented endeavors, especially at Immaculate Conception Church in Columbia Heights.

One of his contributions there is to put together large-print versions of the church’s hymns. If a particular work isn’t in his database, his wife, Maxine, helps him type it up. As a music-lover, he says that having larger-print copies benefits both others and himself.

He also helps deliver Meals on Wheels. “I said, ‘I can’t drive, but I can take things up to the houses.’ ” He said that many of the drivers have trouble walking, so together, they make a good team.

Bruegger also is active with the Knights of Columbus and the Lions Club, where he helps lead causes for the blind.

He and Maxine do find time for themselves. Bruegger, who grew up on a farm, likes to garden, and the couple take in a Twins game whenever they can. He also maintains a rental property that he owns.

“It’s just fun being around people, doing different things, that brings variety in life,” he said.

Pat Schreifels, Bruegger’s sister-in-law, said Maxine couldn’t have found a better match. Maxine has cerebral palsy and when she and Bruegger met, her condition was already progressing, she said. The couple are celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary this month. “It’s been a blessing to have someone close to her in life,” Schreifels said. “He’s pretty amazing.”

Lynn Bach is a rehabilitation counselor at Minnesota State Services for the Blind, which hires Bruegger to instruct people on ZoomText. She’s glad to have him as a resource. “It’s helpful and hopeful to have a senior coming to teach other seniors, who also has vision problems. He knows what they’re going through,” she said.

No matter where a client lives, he’s always accommodating, and he finds a way to get to people’s homes, even those that are far away, she said. “He doesn’t complain or say he can’t do it. He just gets it done.”

Also, he’s a good teacher, she said.

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