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A new look for an old Lutheran neighborhood

Louis Hoglund/FOCUS Pictured at the Thrivent for Lutherans office, on 7th Ave. SW in Perham, are agency owners Dale and Karen Wanderi, left, and agent Rick Hanson. The modern office building is built on an open lot that was formerly the St. Paul's Lutheran Church lawn. The original St. Paul's Church, which is on the market for sale, was built in 1894. The new St. Paul's church, a few blocks to the south, was completed in 1970, and the new school was built as an addition in 2007. The old school has bee...

The old neighborhood is taking on a new appearance in southwest Perham, where a modern office building now stands on the old St. Paul's Lutheran churchyard.

Thrivent for Lutherans, the agency owned by Dale and Karen Wanderi, for the past year has been headquartered just down the street from the old, stately St. Paul's church and the original Lutheran school. Both constructed with the familiar, sandy colored "Perham Brick" that was produced locally and used for a number of structures built early in the last century.

The Wanderis purchased the undeveloped lot from St. Paul's Lutheran, and constructed the office building for the agency, which appropriately, has a long history with Lutheran churches. The old school and the lot have been sold in connection with St. Paul's major building expansion, which created the new school attached to its church, built a few blocks to the south of the original church.

St. Paul's original brick church, across the lawn from Thrivent, has served the very small, Church of Christ congregation in recent years, and is also on the market for sale.

The 1,500 square foot Thrivent office features three separate offices, plus a meeting room and kitchen.

Thrivent was created in 2002 when the Aid Association for Lutherans and Lutheran Brotherhood merged their insurance and financial companies. Wanderi has been in the business for 22 years, nearly half of those with AAL before the merger. Both Dale and wife Karen (Poser) are Perham area natives, and both are fully licensed as Thrivent agents.

The third member of the team is Rick Hanson, Vergas area, who is also an agent.

The three agents serve about 1,000 clients throughout East Otter Tail County, including New York Mills, Ottertail, Dent, Vergas and the many townships in between. In addition to Thrivent insurance and investment products, the Wanderi agency also represents Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Jackson National and Oppenheimer, said Wanderi, who is also licensed to operate in Alaska, Virginia and the Dakotas.

Describing Thrivent as a "caring company," Wanderi says an important component of the organization is the fraternal and charitable work.

"More than $100,000 comes into Otter Tail County from Thrivent, in one form or another," said Wanderi.

Through the East Otter Tail Thrivent Chapter and its board of area representatives, dozens of individuals, families and organizations are assisted annually through donations and matching funds.

For example, the Thrivent chapter recently assisted the New York Mills Senior Citizens Club with a fundraising breakfast and donated matching funds.

Families with medical needs; St. Paul's and Trinity, New York Mills, receive funds for the Lutheran schools the churches operate; and the Island Lutheran camp near Henning are among the recipients of Thrivent contributions.

"Throughout the year, we donate on a needs basis," said Wanderi.

The current East Otter Tail Thrivent board membership includes: President Elizabeth Dillerud, Pelican Rapids; Vice President Verdelle Stinar, Richville; Records Director, Doug Thorson, Henning; Financial Director Lowell Wilcox; and board members Elma Keskitalo; Vicki Schwanke, Perham; Cynthia Hermanson, Henning; Nancy Bagne, Perham; and Gerald Hanson, Parkers Prairie.

Company-wide, Thrivent has 2.7 million members; $73.2 billion in assets; and life insurance contracts valued at about $162 billion.