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Hall of Fame, Leadership honors presented

Perham attorney Dennis Happel earned his second "Leadership Award" at the April 8 banquet. He also received the honor in 1996, for his work on the Perham Area Community Center.1 / 3
Allen Arvig, who was named to the Perham Hall of Fame April 8, "never let the size of the community limit the quality of the service," said Don Swenson, the presenter of the honor and a longtime Arvig Telecommunication Systems executive. Small communities served by Arvig Telecom had high-speed Internet and fiber optic cable installed before much of the Twin Cities metro area, noted Swenson.2 / 3
Rev. Phil Holtan earned a Perham "Leadership Award" as the driving force behind the "Feed My Starving Children" campaign in March of 2009-which produced 435,888 meals for malnourished children.3 / 3

Care for the sick; feed the masses and communicate to the world.

These were the broad themes of the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership and Hall of Fame Awards Night April 8.

Health care for the coming "baby boom bubble" is the objective with Perham Memorial Hospital's $36 million facility, now under construction. And one of Perham's own baby boomers, Dennis Happel, was honored with an annual Leadership Award for his work in raising nearly $3.5 million toward the building project.

Food for hungry children earned the Rev. Phil Holtan a Leadership award. Holtan spearheaded the "Feed My Starving Children" drive when Perham and East Otter Tail County packaged enough meals to feed 1,200 children for one year.

Allen Arvig: Growing a company and growing a community

Telecommunications that connect much of central Minnesota to the world earned a place in the Perham "Hall of Fame" for Allen Arvig. He is the third Arvig to be so honored: Royal Arvig the first year of the awards, 1994; and Eleanor in 1998.

The awards were presented in front of an audience of about 100, at the Perham Lakeside Golf Course.

Introducing the award for Allen Arvig was longtime Arvig Telecommunications Systems associate Don Swenson, who said Arvig was an embodiment of the Perham motto: "Make it Happen."

The Arvig family built a company that is "the envy and example for telecom companies across the nation."

Many times, Arvig has had the opportunity to sell the local firm to larger telecom conglomerates, but he's always kept the company-and its 500 jobs-headquartered in Perham, said Swenson.

"And Allen has always stressed the obligation to give back to the community," said Swenson. "Allen has helped improve the quality of life in the community for more than 40 years."

"It's been awful fun being at the helm of the East Otter Tail Telephone Company," said Allen Arvig in accepting the honor.

He also credited the efforts and hard work of the employees to help build the company, which grew from 9,000 customers in 1975 to more than 40,000 today.

Ever proud of his Perham roots, Arvig said one of his favorite memories was when he hosted a meeting of a national telecommunications board here. "It was a crowning joy for me to show people from around the nation what a small community can accomplish. I'm very proud of Perham," said Arvig

Dennis Happel: Hospital fundraising campaign earns honor

"Another chapter in the 'Big Book of Perham,'" is how Dennis Happel described what is generally accepted as the "biggest single project in the history of Perham."

To assemble the financing for the new Perham hospital, about $3.5 million was needed in local investment. Happel spearheaded the drive, and to date, the goal is about $165,000 away.

Well-known for his unconventional fundraising methods, Happel was approached about the hospital campaign. Hospital chief executive Chuck Hofius introduced Happel for the honor. Happel's fingerprints are on nearly every community project of the last 30 years-including the library, community center, Lakeside clubhouse, the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center and several referendums for school building projects.

Initially, Happel was somewhat reluctant to leap into the forefront of another fundraiser, said Hofius. Your reputation runs risks when you repeatedly ask for money, said Hofius, even for good causes.

"It is exciting to witness projects like this take form, and exciting to be a part of it," said Happel. "But you can get beat up when you raise money."

Recalling his move back to Perham, with a law degree, Happel said other attorneys cautioned him against setting up a practice in Perham.

"They said you have to be in a county seat. Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Fergus Falls, Park Rapids...'That town (Perham) is dying, you'll never get anywhere,'" remembered Happel. "Well, I want to thank you all for proving them wrong-every single day."

Rev. Phil Holtan: Feeding severely malnourished children

"Without Pastor Holtan's dream, vision and leadership, we would have missed out on an opportunity to serve God's children," said Terry Hepola, past president of the congregation at Phil Holtan's Calvary Lutheran Church.

In just two days in March of 2009, Holtan and his committee-which must share the honor, he quickly adds-packaged enough "Feed My Starving Children" food to serve 435,888 meals.

To give it perspective, Hepola noted that the volunteer crew, which numbered more than 3,000 people over the two days, packaged enough to feed 45 percent of Perham's population for a year.

And Pastor Holtan isn't stopping there. He's been lending a hand with Hawley's "Feed My Starving Children" campaign this spring. And next year, Perham and East Otter Tail County will be mobilizing again. The goal: Doubling production by packaging a million meals for "Feed My Starving Children."

No doubt, Holtan will again be leading the way.