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Meet the Team

Gary Cares is made up of passionate, hardworking individuals dedicated to making a positive difference in the community.

Our team is united in its mission to make a lasting impact in the lives of those around us and the people we serve.

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Wendy Bennefed

Wendy grew up in Twin Valley but moved to Gary after marrying Jason "JB" Bennefeld, a local "Garyite". Together they raised their daughter in this great small town and Wendy's goal is to continue to make Gary and the area a wonderful, safe community for everyone to live throughout their journey of life.


Wendy holds an associates degree in marketing and management from UMC, a bachelor's in Social Work and a bachelor's in Gerontology both from MSUM. She has 18 years leadership experience in medical and geriatric focus social work. In July 2022, she was proud to join the Anderson Family Funeral Home in Twin Valley and work along side her family (she is the oldest "Anderson girl").


Wendy has served the Gary community through her past volunteerism with the American Legion Axillary and Gary Community Club. She currently focuses on Gary Cares and Gary Pines Committees as well as other important community projects. Wendy helps run the Rural Readers Book Club with her daughter Abbie where they read anything they can get their mitts on.

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Anne Nalewaja

Anne graduated with a double major from North Dakota State University, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Weed Science and Zoology.

Experience: 1994-2003 Worked Ag Retail in Ada & Halstad 2003-2013 Monsanto - 2013-2016 BASF – 2016- Done - May 2026 Bayer CropScience

Volunteering: Helping mentor youth group Shock & Awe Philanthropy group. Treasurer for Gary Cares Non-Profit group that does a county wide fund raiser Lead by example always Giving Back to my Community – Helping New Mexican population get involved in the community

Hobbies: Horseback Riding, golfing, Skiing cross country - downhill - snowmobiling, gardening, kayaking, fishing, hunting, & member of St. Williams Catholic Church. Oh yes, we have a hobby farm Wheat Soybean rotation plus 50 acres of grass hay that is to keep husband busy.



Diane Littlefield

Diane Swenson Littlefield, is also a native of Gary who was gone for a number of years and moved back to her home town of Gary. She is a U.S. Navy Veteran and recently retired as an administrator for Tri Valley Opportunity Council, a non-profit community action agency located in Crookston.  She is also an active member of the Gary Community Club, Bear Park Township Board, and the Gary Legion.  Diane's love for people and her organizational skills make working with this group a joy.  Diane is a founding member of Gary Cares.



Bryan Thronson

Bryan is  a proud father of two and husband of  Amanda Thronson. He an alumni of Norman County East High School. Bryan and his father own Thronson Construction in Gary, a part owner of Gary Grocery (C-Store) and  a city council member. Bryan is the person you go to when you have to find out where to start. He is popular amongst locals and area residents for his big heart, willingness to assist and his "get it done" attitude.


Vice President

Karie Kirschbaum

After a 30 year absence, Karie Whitson Kirschbaum moved from California back to her hometown of Gary in spring of 2010. She was reminded of her cultural heritage of hard work, integrity, family and faith.  She shared the vision of others and joined the movement to showcase the unique facets of rural Minnesota. She served from 2013-2020 as the Mayor of Gary, from 2018-2023 as the Chair of the Norman County Economic Authority and is currently the Community Development Director for the City of Crookston, MN overseeing Economic Development and Housing (public and section 8) Karie is a founding member of Gary Cares.



Amanda Thronson

Originally from Borup, MN, Amanda Thronson knows all about the small-town life. She also comes from a family of eight kids, so there was never a dull moment growing up! 
She received her Early Childhood degree from Northland Community and Technical College in 2012, and after six years decided on a career change. She now works for West Central Ag in Beltrami as their office manager. 
Amanda is married to Bryan Thronson and they have 2 children. They reside in Gary.  She keeps busy with the kids (and husband), enjoys reading, and doing spontaneous things with friends.  She has a knack for organizing and keeping things tidy. She is the person to go to when you’re looking for someone to take the reins and follow through with a task.  She is excited to be taking on a role in a great organization like Gary Cares and the community! 



Buck Engen

Buck Engen is a proud father of four. He, alongside his wife Kristi, is a native of Gary and an alum of Gary High School. Beyond this, he also serves as the Mayor of Gary and holds the position of Fire Chief at the Gary Volunteer Fire Department. He is also the manager at West Central Ag in Mahnomen.

Buck's demeanor is one of calm and collectedness, especially under pressure. His knack for teamwork is evident as he enjoys collaborating with diverse individuals and groups to achieve common goals. Notably, he is one of the founding members of Gary Cares.



Abbie Bennefeld

Abbie was raised in Gary, where she enjoyed the relaxed, small-town lifestyle of playing around town with friends and partaking in community events. Abbie graduated in 2014 from Norman County East where she was actively engaged with many organizations such as Student Council, Nation Honor Society, and Family, Community, & Career Leaders of America.  She went on to further her education at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Mortuary Science in 2017.  She spent a few years living in St. Paul, MN before moving to Moorhead, MN. After spending some time living “the big city life”, her heart encouraging her to go home, and the decision was made to move back to rural Gary. Abbie was proud to come back to serve her community at Anderson Family Funeral Home in the Fall of 2021, where she gets to work alongside her family - something she appreciates every day. 

Abbie loves living in the county with her two cats, Bean and Punky, and enjoys everything the Northern Minnesota outdoors has to offer - riding bike, kayaking, and gardening. Affectionately known as the "plant lady," Abbie boasts an impressive collection of over 150 houseplants, generously sharing her knowledge with others to help care for their green companions. Abbie joins her mom, Wendy, in running the local Rural Readers Book Club. Having a natural desire to help others, Abbie greatly enjoys giving back and serving her community in all aspects of her life, making her a perfect fit for the Gary Cares team.

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