"I've often said that working in Perham for me has been like being CEO of the town, but it is with about 100, 150 other CEOs, all doing their own leadership thing, all doing what they do best with great passion," recently retired attorney Dennis Happel said. "Nobody alone can do this. Even a few people couldn't do this without the community really sharing that vision. . . . Every year, this event is kind of a love fest for Perham, and it should be."

Happel was only one of several Perham residents rewarded for the time and love they put into their community at the 2021 Chamber Choice Awards. This event, which took place Thursday, April 8 at the Cactus, celebrates the teamwork and passion that goes into building a small community.

Representing the Perham Area Starfish Fund's receival of the Leadership Award, Charlie Nelson shared a story. There was a young girl walking around a beach where starfish were washed up. As she walked, she picked up the starfish one at a time and threw them back into the ocean. A man approached her and told her she wouldn't be able to save them all. The little girl replied after throwing another starfish into the ocean, "I made a difference to that one."

Inspired, the man joined the girl throwing starfish back into the ocean. Soon, others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

"One person, one challenge, one starfish at a time," Nelson said. He believes he's accepting the award on behalf of all his community. According to him, the Perham Area Starfish Fund would not have been able to raise $116,000 in donations for those in need without the work of everyone who helped.

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Mary Nordbeck, 2021 winner of the Humanitarian Award
Mary Nordbeck, 2021 winner of the Humanitarian Award

Perham is filled with people who do good, and, according to Jeff Hunter, this isn't to win rewards. Hunter, who presented the Humanitarian Award to Mary Nordbeck said, "(Mary) believes that what she does for other people is just the way things should be. It's not something that should be recognized."

Along with being a foster parent for 24 years, Nordbeck is involved with the Bridge Pantry, Friends of Friends Committee and is co-chair of the Perham Backpack Program.

For Nick Theroux, winner of the Volunteer Award, volunteering was also just something he did to put himself out there. He loves using his skills and talents to help his community.

"Don't let (volunteering) become work," Theroux said. "Have fun. Volunteer because that's what you want to do."

Nick Theroux, 2021 winner of the Volunteer Award
Nick Theroux, 2021 winner of the Volunteer Award

The winners of the 2021 Chamber Choice Awards are as follows:

  • Dr. Mike Hamann, winner of the Hall of Fame Award. Dr. Hamann is a dentist at Perham Dentistry and has been in Perham for 47 years. Since 2015, he's served on the Minnesota Dental Association's State Constitution, Ethics and Bylaws Committee and received the Minnesota Service Award from the Minnesota Dental Association in 2014.
  • Perham Area Starfish Fund, winner of the Leadership Award. This fund was created to help struggling locals in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Mary Nordbeck, winner of the Humanitarian Award. Nordbeck worked with the Habitat For Humanity for a few years and is a member of the Perham Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood.
  • Dennis Happel, winner of the Hall of Fame Award. Happel was chair of the fundraising committee for the new Perham hospital and helped with club house fundraising at the golf course.
  • Nick Theroux, winner of the Volunteer Award. Theroux moved to Perham in 2001 where he built his business Blossoms, Birds and Beyond with his wife. He managed the Perham Lions Charitable Gaming for 10 years and currently serves as president on the East Ottertail Minnesota Deer Hunters.
  • Steve's Sanitation, winner of the Best in Business Award. Steve's Sanitation is a local, family-owned business. Their goal is to provide the Lakes Area, Lake Park, Osage, Bluffton and Battle Lake with the best waste management service possible.
  • Central Market, Perham, winner of the Small Town Spirit Award. Central Market is located on 211 Market Drive in Perham, M.N. They raise money for the Boys and Girls Club, donate to the Bridge Food Pantry and donate to nonprofits through their We Care program.