There were only about 20 people in the room when banker Roy Terwilliger (pictured above) held the first Eden Prairie leaders luncheon in 1978. It was a tight-knit group of people accustomed to seeing each other and working together. Eden Prairie – with a population less than 15,000 – was just beginning its development boom.
Today, that luncheon – now called the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon – continues under the direction of Flagship Bank and the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. Eden Prairie’s population has grown nearly five-fold, and some of the 70 to 80 community leaders who attend the luncheon are meeting each other for the first time.
It’s that rare opportunity to gather many of the people who are making Eden Prairie a great place to live and work that sets the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon apart from other events. At any given table will be Eden Prairie nonprofit leaders, elected officials, presidents of civic and social clubs and organizations, and more.
The annual December luncheon serves as a thank-you: there’s no guest speaker, no formal “message” beyond gratitude for service to Eden Prairie. But its organizers also hope the event is fertile ground where the seeds of collaboration are sowed … where conversation leads to one group working with another on an idea to benefit Eden Prairie.
Not many people know, however, that the community leaders luncheon is an idea that Terwilliger brought back from a Las Vegas conference, and a way to grow his fledging Suburban National Bank. Suburban was opened in 1976, at the same time Eden Prairie Shopping Center was opening its doors, and Terwilliger was trying to position Eden Prairie’s first bank as one with a small-town feel, where you personally knew your banker.
That had him advertising large in the local newspaper, launching a senior citizens club, attending every meeting in town … and starting the community leaders luncheon. “It was a way to say thank you,” Terwilliger says about the luncheon. “Obviously, we felt it was a way to get our point across that we were very much a part of the community.”
Those first luncheons would typically gather the mayor, superintendent of schools, school board chair, local legislators, and representatives from the Rotary and Lions clubs. Early on, attendees took home small tokens provided by the bank: one year an engraved candy dish; another year a bottle of popcorn kernels with a label stating “We’re Poppin’ with Pride over Your Leadership in Eden Prairie.” Later the tokens were replaced with an annual check presented to PROP, the local social-services provider.
“It kind of grew from there as the community got bigger,” says Terwilliger. The luncheon disappeared after U.S. Bank purchased Suburban National Bank in 1989 and Terwilliger became the area’s state senator. It was then resurrected about 11 years later, when Terwilliger left the Legislature and opened Community Bank in Eden Prairie, eventually renamed Flagship Bank.
“We had such warm fuzzies out of that [luncheon],” Terwilliger says. In recent years, the Eden Prairie Community Foundation – Terwilliger helped found that organization as well – has become a sponsor with Flagship.
And, although its organizers hope the fellowship created by the event leads to true collaboration between its attendees, the luncheon still has just one primary purpose: to thank people for giving back to Eden Prairie.
(Community leaders are gathering again on Dec. 12, 2017 at Bearpath Golf & Country Club, almost 40 years after that first luncheon.)