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Dinner with Lions, Surprise Award

By Thalen Zimmerman (Published by the Echo Press during my internship)

ALEXANDRIA, MN - Dr. Deborah Ristvedt, Alexandria native and ophthalmologist at Vance Thompson Vision, had no idea she was to receive the Melvin Jones Fellow award when she attended an annual dinner hosted by the Alexandria Lions Club on Monday, June 14

When newly appointed 4-5 District Governor of Lions International Kellie Knudson announced, “It is my honor to present a Melvin Jones Fellow to Dr. Deborah Ristvedt,” the room filled with smiles, clapping, and a standing ovation as a look of sheer surprise came over Ristvedt.

“I am so surprised and honored,” said Ristvedt, “I thought we were here to honor my grandfather.”

Her grandfather, Dr. Lowell Gess, an honorary club member, and her father, Dr. Tim Gess, are both ophthalmologists known as pioneers in their field. Both have practiced eye treatments in Alexandria since the 1970s.

The Melvin Jones Fellow, named after the founder of Lions International, is the highest form of recognition within the Lions Club and is presented to outstanding individuals who embody humanitarian values consistent with the nature of the Lions Club.

Ristvedt received her award for her generosity given to a patient. After the patient reached out to Lions International Chicago for help with a much needed cataract surgery, International contacted the Alexandria Lions Club to see what they could do.

“We reached out to Dr. Deb, and she did the surgery for nothing, pro-bono,” said Bob Dahlheimer, secretary for the Alexandria Lions Club.

Since she was a young girl, Ristvedt always knew she wanted to be a doctor.

“When I saw the work my dad and grandpa were doing, helping to treat blindness caused by cataracts,” said Ristvedt, “I knew I wanted to be an ophthalmologist.”

“Since she was 3 years old, I remember her saying she wanted to be a doctor like her dad,” said Joanne Gess, Ristvedts mother.

Ristvedt has been an ophthalmologist in Alexandria for the past eleven years. Currently, she is researching the use of MIGS, micro invasive glaucoma surgery, with her father, who came out of retirement to be her understudy. Ristvedt can use MIGS to treat glaucoma and cataracts simultaneously.

“My daughter has way eclipsed me. She is just amazing,” Tim Gess said. “You can’t imagine how proud I am of Deb.”

Dr. Lowell Gess, who turns 100 years this July, was also honored at the dinner. He received the Helen Keller Award for providing outstanding service within the community. Lowell has been a doctor since 1951. He has worked as a pastor, crossed the ocean 194 times, wrote six books (currently working on a 7th), and helped establish the Lowell and Ruth Gess United Methodist Eye Hospital in the west African nation of Sierra Leone. “The largest and best-equipped eye care facility in the country,” according to Global Ministries.

“I am so proud of her. She is doing such great work and pioneering,” said Lowell when asked about his granddaughters’ accomplishments, “She is a wizard.”

The Lions Club has been doing its part to find a cure for preventable blindness after Helen Keller called on the club to be her “knights for the blind” in 1925.


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