2024 Outstanding Citizens Announced

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City Events 2024 Elections

2024 Outstanding Citizens Announced

The 2024 Outstanding Citizen honorees were announced at the May 28 City Council Meeting. Denise Johnson and Brian "Beany" Drews were recognized in the adult category, with Jack Israelson accepting the award in the youth category.

Jack Israelson, Denise Johnson, and Conner Drews holding plaques and standing with the Mayor.
From left: Conner Drews (accepting on behalf of his father), Mayor Márquez Simula, Jack Israelson, and Denise Johnson.


As Denise was winding down her 47-year career in healthcare, she knew she needed to spend her time in a meaningful way in retirement. She credits her parents for giving her inspiration. “The volunteerism spirit was role-modeled at home,” she said. “Volunteering was never a question based on the example my parents set.”

Originally from Columbia Heights, Denise watched her mom volunteer at Southern Anoka County Assistance (SACA) every Wednesday for 20 years. Both parents volunteered at SACA and local churches, and her dad used his handy skills to help neighbors with odd jobs.

After retiring, Denise followed in her parents’ footsteps and is now a second-generation volunteer at SACA. She helps clients shop and ensures they have a positive experience.

Just before retiring in 2021, Denise also started working with Reach Out and Read, an organization that works to get books into the hands of children at annual check-ups during early childhood. Denise said she enjoys getting to work alongside young adults from Columbia Heights who also volunteer with the organization as part of a career pathways program.

When the City’s Sustainability Commission was launched in 2023, Denise applied and was appointed as one of the first commissioners. She said she brings her love of Columbia Heights to the role and has learned a lot along the way. She added that her involvement with the commission is a great jumping-off point for other volunteer opportunities in the City.

For those looking for ways to get involved, Denise noted the ample need in Columbia Heights. “You don’t have to go far if you’re looking for volunteer opportunities,” she said. “It’s right in your backyard.”

It’s no surprise that many in the community knew Brian “Beany” Drews. He called Columbia Heights home for most of his life and had a knack for brightening people’s days, according to his son Conner. “He was easy to approach,” said Conner. “I don’t think he realized the impact he had on people.”

Beany spent many years as an assistant coach for numerous youth sports. Conner said his dad went out of his way to help kids who needed rides to practice and played an active role in fundraising efforts to ensure kids could participate. Although Conner played for St. Anthony, Beany couldn’t help but root for the opposing team anytime they faced teams from Columbia Heights.

After Beany’s passing last November, Conner said he’s been taken aback by the number of people who recognize him because of his dad. Everyone from the mail carrier to former youth sports peers have approached him. They all remember talking to Beany and enjoying his sense of humor and the light-hearted atmosphere he created anywhere he went.

Beany’s family is rooted in Columbia Heights, and he often assisted with fundraising efforts and events at his family’s local church. He also stayed active in the community through softball and the Italian American Club.

We thank Conner Drews for accepting the Outstanding Citizen Award on behalf of his father.

Jack Israelson, a senior at Columbia Heights High School, serves as a member of the City’s Youth Commission and is a volunteer photographer with HeightsNEXT.

Jack said he has enjoyed being part of the Youth Commission and learning from various City staff that have presented to the commission. “It’s opened my eyes to many of the different departments,” he said. “It’s been a very valuable experience, and I’ve liked contributing to local government.”

In addition to his volunteer work, he’s a writer with the Heights Herald, where several of his stories focus on the Columbia Heights community and local government. One of the nominations for Jack noted his dedication to covering issues that impact the City and ensuring that his peers are well-informed citizens.

After graduating this spring, Jack plans to attend the University of Minnesota in the fall, hoping to study geography or urban studies.

Being involved in the Columbia Heights community has been important to Jack. “It’s a vibrant and progressive community,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of it. If you want to get involved, it’s easy to do.”