A city like Perham, with just over 3,000 people, is made up of many people who quietly go about their day making this a better place to live. Everybody in Perham has a story, unique in their own way. We aim to tell those every day stories … 1 in 3,000.

Meeting James

“I was born here in Perham,” said James Stoderl, ”but never raised here.”

Stoderl, 67, has been on the go for most of his life.

While his father was always moving onto a better job, Stoderl was instead raised in Wadena, New York Mills and Fergus Falls, and near Warrington, Va., and Rockfield, Md. He came back to Perham just in time to finish high school, graduating in 1971.

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That's when Stoderl joined the US Air Force, during the Vietnam War.

“I was afraid of being drafted,” Stoderl said, “ and I wanted a nice comfy bed, not a mudhole!”

Stoderl served for four years and eight months, achieving the rank of sergeant as a fuel specialist. He spent the Vietnam War in Torrejon, Spain. “I went from sunny Spain to sunny Grand Forks,” Stoderl said.

During his service, Stoderl did witness one plane crash.

“It was scary,” he said; the plane came in nose-first and went down the runway straight into an empty 5,000-gallon fuel tank. That meant the end of work for everyone except the fire crew.

Stoderl made his way back to Perham after getting out of the Air Force ("For some odd reason this car followed that road back here," he says). Once in Perham, he worked a number of different jobs starting at Crane Johnson, a carpenter’s assistance, a month at Tuffy’s in cat food, Schmitz Ford, and 26 years as the janitor for St. Henry’s church and school.

These days Stoderl can be found doing lawn work, moving snow, volunteering at the Richville Community Center, at In Their Own Words (ITOW) Veterans Museum every Thursday, being the historian for the Dent American Legion, “and I drive for Perham Living in the summer,” Stoderl said. ”That cart that drives residents around, I do two days a week up there.”

Whether paid or volunteer work Stoderl does does it happily; if someone cannot pay him for his services, and he can do the work, especially for the elderly.

“I live by a philosophy of just helping people,” Stoderl said. "I was told; ‘treat everybody like you’re meeting Jesus, no matter who they are.’ I live by that rule and I learned that in first grade.”

That's a rule that he claims is the only thing that he remembers from school.

Correction: James Stoderl spent the Vietnam War in Torrejon, Spain. The location was wrong in an earlier version of this story. It has been updated with the correct information. We regret the error.