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Ryan Johnson, Published December 25 2012

Person of Your Year: Humble ‘superheroes’

BUFFALO, N.D. – Maybe humility is just another one of their superpowers.

Larry and Penny Zaun said they don’t think of themselves as extraordinary but rather just another part of the community of Buffalo that seems to be filled with people who value family, hard work and giving back.

That’s not how their daughters Alison Kasowski and Sheila Larson see the couple, whom they describe as superheroes.

The daughters point to their ability to effortlessly balance work, faith and volunteering with devoting time to their parents, five children and 13 grandchildren over their 41 years of marriage as proof.

Kasowski said it was precisely because of her parents’ humility and generosity that they deserve to be part of The Forum’s “Person of Your Year” series.

“I just think that they should be recognized for what they do because they would never, ever demand that,” she said.

The Zauns might not see how their own hard work makes them special. But they have no problem seeing it in one another.

Penny described her husband as “Mr. Volunteer,” pointing to his roles as president of the Maple Valley Co-op board, serving on the board of directors at St. Thomas Catholic Church and chaplain for the local American Legion while also playing a part in just about every big effort in Buffalo, whether it’s organizing car shows and parades or getting a new veterans memorial.

Larry, meanwhile, said his wife makes it seem easy to balance time between their five kids, their young grandchildren and regularly visiting her mother at an assisted living facility in Fargo while also being the first person many in Buffalo reach out to for help.

“She should be mom/grandma of the year,” he said.

The Zauns have no complaints about their busy schedules, which includes Larry farming corn and soybeans and Penny working full time as a secretary at Maple Valley High School.

“We’re never really thinking, ‘Oh gosh, what are we going to do?’ ” she said.

They still manage to find time to relax at the lake during the summers, and Larry said he enjoys showing off his 1949 International pickup he’s lovingly converted into a street rod. They’ll hit the road with the unique ride this summer, following the famed Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif.

But ask them about the fact that their five adult children all made the decision to stay close by – none live more than 30 minutes from the farm the Zauns have called home since 1975 – and it’s obvious that spending time with family is what they enjoy the most.

Larson said she may not have realized while growing up how special her parents were. But now that she’s raising her own kids and has more perspective, she realizes she became who she is today because of her parents’ healthy marriage and ability to be “extraordinary” every day.

“They always gave us enough room to be independent and do our own thing, but we always knew that we had their support if we needed anything or if it didn’t work out like we thought we had it all figured out,” she said. “I knew we always had that support. I’m 32, and that hasn’t changed a bit.”

Still, the Zauns said they learned how to lead full, balanced lives from their own parents, and said they’re just one part of their community like the rest of their neighbors and friends.

“My friends all do the same things I do, so in no way do I feel like I’m extra special about any of that,” Penny said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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