Faith, community service is important to local resident

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 18, 2002

One does not have to be born in a certain city in order to care about it, but it certainly makes for a good start. Gretchen Ramlo grew up in Austin and has only been away from her hometown four years while attending school in the Twin Cities.

About eight years ago, she opened Gretchen's fashion boutique on Main Street. The store offers a variety of stylish women's plus-size clothes and accessories and is the only one of its kind in Austin. Ramlo travels far and wide in search of the latest and best in fashions. Together with her friend, Pat Ray, she also owns and runs the Parkside Pete's popcorn and sandwich wagon, which is a replica of a 1921 popcorn wagon.

But those business ventures don't keep Ramlo from getting involved in other neighborhood organizations as well. An avid supporter of the Humane Society and the Austin Area Art Center, she generously volunteers her time and other resources.

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"Spruce up Austin is one of my passions, and I'm part of that group -- a crazy, eclectic group of people," Ramlo said, laughing joyfully. "There are 18 of us, and I'm the president last year and this year, and it has been fun. There are many leaders in this group. That's what's fun about this group. Everyone is involved with things and we hope we make a difference in Austin, in planting trees and shrubs and that kind of things."

Ramlo grew up in the congregation of St. Olaf's Lutheran church and calls herself fortunate to have parents who brought her there every Sunday. She was enrolled in Sunday school and sang in the choir, and through those important years, her parents were there with her, she recalls, adding that she thinks that this background is a good and motivating thing.

"We are not there as often as we should be," Ramlo admits, referring to herself and her husband Mark's church attendance. "But as one of our former pastors said, it's not how often you are there, but how you live your life. I hope that's what God thinks, too."

On occasion, Ramlo still gets involved in church activities, but she does not sing in the choir any more. She laughs out loud at the very idea. "My voice is bad, it's really, really bad! I always say that the only choir I could sing in would be a church choir, because they can't turn you away."

Being involved in so many different activities is quite time consuming. Chuckling, Ramlo quotes Mark as saying, "Next time you add an activity to your agenda, could you make it golf?"

Her busy schedule is acceptable, though, because the couple does not have any children, only "a spoiled cat."

Ramlo attributes her ambitions in getting involved with the community and its people to her fondness of Austin. "It's a nice place," she said, "and I feel sorry for people who don't get involved. Whatever you do to make Austin an even nicer place to live comes back to you a hundred times over. You see that with people helping with the Humane Society, too. Being involved makes you feel good about yourself. You make a lot of friends and you meet a lot of people you would not meet otherwise."

Through her sunny outlook on life and kindness toward her fellow town people, Ramlo has indeed expanded her circle of friends -- using her own words -- "a hundred times over."

Nini Johnson can be reached at