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Perham community leaders honored at awards banquet

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Perham community leaders honored at awards banquet
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

A humble hard worker, a motivated married couple and a “bulldog for the underdog” were all recognized at the Perham Area Chamber’s Leadership and Hall of Fame Awards Night on April 24.

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From Lisa Peterson, a woman who has committed countless hours to the local Relay for Life, to Doug and Sue Huebsch, who give back to the community through their numerous political and business involvements, to Cindy Olson, who devotes her time to helping those most in need in the community, the four award winners all received some well-earned accolades.

Held at Wild Oaks, the banquet ceremony featured introductions of the award winners, followed by words from the winners themselves.

Lisa Peterson, Hall of Fame Award winner 

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of recognition, or more humble about recognition, than Lisa Peterson,” said Ruth Wegscheid during her introduction of the award winner.

As Peterson’s former teacher, and a long-time East Otter Tail County Relay for Life committee member, Wegscheid has gotten to know Peterson well.

Peterson has served as the relay’s chair or co-chair since 2000, but she has been actively involved with the event since its beginning in 1995, when it was founded by her parents, Ron and Dee Anderson. Peterson’s leadership role with the relay began in 1999, when she helped form a committee structure for the event and took on the Team Captain Coordinator position.

Since then, the committee has consistently overseen an active relay of 20 or more teams each year. The event has won a number of awards in recent years, including several Nationwide Top Ten Per Capita fundraising awards from the American Cancer Society, and a Midwest Division Community of Hope award.

Wegscheid said the relay has grown tremendously over the years. The event generated about $9,000 in donations its first year. By last year, that number had swelled to $90,000.

“She’s done an amazing job” with her work for the relay,” said Wegscheid. “Lisa comes up with great ideas.”

Peterson, however, prefers to share the spotlight.

“I’m very honored to receive this award tonight, and I appreciate the people that selected me to receive this award, but this is not all about me,” she said at the ceremony.

Admitting that she was feeling “a little embarrassed,” she asked the crowd at Wild Oaks to applaud all the members of the relay committee, and said the award really goes to the entire team. The committee works together for many months out of the year to make the relay a success, she explained: “It really is a family.”

Also thanking the many businesses, community groups and individuals who contribute to the relay’s success, Peterson said she’s amazed and inspired by the generosity and participation level she sees every year.

“People might think that I do a lot of work for the relay, but in truth I really get a lot more out of the relay than I put in,” she said. “I get to work with the most caring and generous people that I know....and that is very heartwarming for me and those relationships have really enriched my life. I also get to see people at their most generous.”

In closing, she accepted the award “on behalf of all the people that work very hard to make the Relay for Life of East Otter Tail County a success.”

Outside of the relay, Peterson is a full-time teacher at Frazee High School and active member of Calvary Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Mike, have two daughters, Erin and Emily.

Doug and Sue Huebsch, Leadership Award winners 

They’re successful business owners, involved community members and strong parents, said Chuck Johnson: “Doug and Sue are the complete package.”

From their political involvements to business ventures, the couple’s work is a vital thread in the community’s fabric. The Huebsches have a long history of community involvement. They’ve been instrumental in school bond issues, the St. Henry’s Church narthex project, Jaycees, Cub Scouts, Rotary and other groups and projects. They’ve also been politically active. These days, Sue is a member of the Perham-Dent School Board and Doug is an Otter Tail County Commissioner.

In addition, the couple has started several successful businesses over the years, starting with their turkey operation, which is new Life Farms today, a catering business (Gobble Up Turkey, which they later sold), The Wild Goose and Goose Gang. They were also part of a partnership group that started the Perham NAPA. All told, they have 65 employees working for them.

“Everything they’ve been involved in has been creating a solution to fill a need,” Johnson said. And “when it’s time to get things done, Doug and Sue roll up their sleeves and get things done.”

Throughout the Huebsches years together in the Perham area, the common thread through all their efforts has been “hard work,” Johnson said. “Both have given bushel-baskets full of energy and resources to Perham.”

Following in Lisa Peterson’s humble footsteps, the Huebsches were thankful for their award, but were also quick to share the credit with others.

“Thank you all very much; this really is a humbling experience, and I really don’t feel worthy of it,” Sue said, expressing gratitude to her family, friends, partners, employees and others.

“When you get a leadership award, it’s not about you,” said Doug. “It’s about the people that you surround yourself with.”

The couple has three children, Abby, Becka and Mark.

Cindy Olson, Volunteer of the Year Award winner 

For the last 13 years, Cindy Olson has managed to keep a relatively low profile, while carrying out volunteer work of the highest sort. Not used to all the attention and praise that she received at the ceremony, her face turned a bright red as her presenter, Phil Holtan, told her story of volunteerism to the crowd.

“The biggest award that Cindy Olson should get is the shy Minnesota Lutheran award,” joked Holtan.

Holtan, the pastor at Olson’s church, Calvary Lutheran, explained that the award winner has earned her accolades well, even if she’s too humble to admit it.

Olson’s story of volunteerism began 13 years ago, Holtan said, after she visited a home where the baby had no crib, no high chair, hardly any toys and only a small square of carpet to eat off of. Wanting to help make a better life for this baby, Olson started asking her friends for diapers and personal care items, and then for everything from dishes to couches and more.

That was the start of Community Outreach, a ministry anchored at Calvary Lutheran Church in Perham that serves families up and down Highway 10, as well as to the north and south. Created by Olson, the ministry works alongside churches in New York Mills and Wadena, as well as agencies and efforts like Someplace Safe and Kinship. Referrals come from local schools, counselors, public health workers, individuals in need and others.

As the awards program states, Olson “is the center of a whole web of helpers who help provide the basics so families can have a safe and happy home.”

Holtan said there are two garages in Perham that “fill and empty just about weekly” as items are donated in and then given out to those in need.

He described Olson as someone who works hard to make Perham a great community, not only for those who are already successful, but for those who are on their way to becoming a success. He told her that, if he could give her a T-shirt, it would say, “‘Bulldog for the underdog.’ Because that’s what you are.”

Olson was a part-time teacher in Henning for 28 years and also worked with infants and toddlers with the Freshwater Special Education Cooperative. She has been active in Jaycees, the Perham Community Food Shelf and other local committees and organizations, including Calvary Lutheran. She has been married to her husband, Mark, for 40 years, and their family includes Adam and Abby, Nate and Beth and six grandchildren.

In accepting her award, Olson thanked the community for its support, and said, “what an honor it is to share the stage with Doug and Sue and Lisa,” who know what it means to give back to the community. 

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Marie Johnson
Marie Johnson (formerly Nitke) came to the Perham Focus after several years as the Education and Arts & Entertainment Editor at the Herald-Review of Grand Rapids, Minn. She lives in rural Ottertail with her husband, Dan, and their spunky yellow lab, Louisa.
(218) 346-5900 x228
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