NORTH MANKATO — Sandra Oachs, born and raised in Pocahontas, Iowa, came to Mankato in 1992 to attend college and never thought of leaving.
"I fell in love with the city and never left."
After getting her business degree at Minnesota State University, she quickly started getting involved in volunteering while working at jobs in restaurants, bars, radio sales and several years as director of sales at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Last summer she put her years of experience in hospitality to work when she and her husband, Clayton, bought Spinner's Bar & Grill in North Mankato. She runs the bar while her husband works another job and helps out when he can.
Oachs' list of community involvement is long. She is on one of the United Way's Impact Teams. "We get to go out and meet with different nonprofits to learn about their mission and to find out their needs and get them more funding."
While working at the Hilton she was on a committee that was a collaboration between the city, civic center and downtown hotels that worked to draw conventions to town.
Oachs was a founding member of the Greater Mankato Sports Commission. "I did a lot of background research and talking to other cities on how they put their commissions together and how to be successful." She continues to serve on the commission's marketing committee.
She also serves on the Greater Mankato Growth Cavaliers committee. "We're the social arm of GMG. So when a new business joins, we go out and explain to them what we can offer and find out about them. We're the liaison between GMG and the businesses and help them meet other people in the community through Business After Hours and other events."
A particular passion for Oachs has been the ongoing effort to revitalize the downtowns of Mankato and North Mankato.
"I started supporting the City Center Partnership's mission about nine years ago and to help market Mankato and the great things we have to offer, our lakes and rivers and vital downtown."
She serves on the partnership's board of directors. "The partnership is awesome because it's allowing us to revitalize downtown. The downtown is vital, it's the heartbeat of the city."
For all her efforts, Oachs recently received the Visit Mankato Volunteer of the Year Award.
As a new business owner in lower North Mankato, Oachs also has recently taken up the reins as president of Business on Belgrade, which sponsors a variety of events, including Blues on Belgrade, Octoberfest Bier on Belgrade and the Bumpers on Belgrade classic car shows.
"We have a lot of businesses that come together and collaborate on bringing events downtown. It's great that small local businesses can get together. Everybody is really invested in it."
She said Greater Mankato is fortunate to have a lot of passionate nonprofits. "I think our community is really good at helping those in need."
She thinks one of the bigger unmet needs is an expansion of recreational facilities, which is the focus of the Sports Commission.
"I was a sports mom and I remember how hard it was to find facilities."
When she's not volunteering, she's focused on building their new business.
"I love people, so even though it's hard work, the people make it worth it. I love to hear the stories people have and to hear the stories about the bar."