The Cactus among the winners at Chamber Choice Awards

After being delayed several months by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Cactus was the site of the Perham Area Chamber event with seven awards handed out.

Due to the COVID-10 pandemic, the 2020 Chamber Choice Awards were delayed by several months and finally took place on Sept. 24, in the event center at The Cactus. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

Attendees at the 2020 Perham Area Chamber Choice Awards only had to look around to see some of the work that made The Cactus worthy of the Best in Business Award.

After being delayed several months by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Cactus was the site of the awards night on Thursday, Sept. 24, with seven awards handed out.

The Best in Business Award, awarded to a business or organization that strives to remain competitive and innovative in the community, was presented by Cody Palubicki to The Cactus for when it was owned by Blake and Brenda Minge. The Cactus was sold to Lucas Johnson at the beginning of September.

According to Blake Minge, who turned 30 years-old on the night of the awards banquet, his mother Brenda owned the business for 15 years and had brought him up in the world of restaurants. He said that their success was owed to the wonderful staff who had worked with them over the years to make The Cactus a success.

Minge said The Cactus was honored with this award due to their recent updates in their entertainment center, which they did to provide more entertainment options in the area.


Brenda (left), Lauren (center), and Blake (right) Minge, the owners of The Cactus when it was nominated for the award, accepted the Chamber Choice Award for best in business. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

The Small Town Spirit Award is given to a business or organization that consistently exhibits outstanding customer service, support, and community service was presented to Richter’s Menswear by Palubicki. Palubicki said that he has known Steve and Connie Richter his whole life and for as long as he can remember, a member of the Richter family has been in the store every day since Steve took over from his father in 1983.

Steve Richter said he bought the store from his father after its inventory was destroyed in the Coast to Coast Hardware fire in 1983. He said to exist in a community, you cannot always take but have to give in turn. He said it is with this ideology, God, and family that has made Richter’s Menswear a successful business that serves its community to the best of its ability and spirit.

Steve (right) and Connie Richter accepted the Chamber Choice Small Town Spirit Award for their continuous commitment to the community at Richter's Menswear. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

The Volunteer Award, which goes to individuals or organizations who volunteer their time to the services of others, was presented to Shirley Davidson by Chuck Johnson.

Davidson is a Perham native who spent 40 years away before returning to her hometown after retiring from running the Federal Housing and Urban Development program for eight states.


Johnson said Davidson is being honored with the volunteer award for her work with the four History and Cultural Association entities. The four entities are the History Museum, the East Otter Tail History Society, the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum, and the Pioneer Village.

Davidson said she hated history but she loved the Pioneer Village. When she returned to Perham after retiring and saw the sad state of Pioneer Fest and her beloved Pioneer Grounds, she set out to work.

Johnson said Davidson is not afraid of hard work or to get her hands dirty with it. It is her dedication that has inspired others to help her make all four History and Cultural Association entities a success. He said it is because of her hard work that the Pioneer Village has gone from seeing two weddings a year to being full nearly every weekend in the summer and that she treats every bride who gets married there like they are her own daughters.

“I don’t feel like I’m the one who did the work,” Davidson said. She said that it is the 12 volunteers at the History Museum, the men at the veterans museum, and all the people who have worked with her in her efforts who have truly done the great work to make History and Cultural Association what it is today.

Chuck Johnson (left) presented Shirly Davidson (right) with the Chamber Choice Volunteer Award for her work with the History and Cultrual Association. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

The Humanitarian Award, which goes to individuals or organizations that are devoted to improving the physical and/or emotional welfare of those in our community. The award was presented to Perham 180 by Ratcliffe.

Perham 180 is a program that helps those who are struggling with barriers to employment, chemical dependency and mental health, as well as those who are economically disadvantaged. The program gives those who are struggling an affordable place to live, help in finding employment and living a productive life.


Ratcliffe said that Hannah Frederick, Erin Roder, and Kate Swanson of Perham 180 have shown compassion to those who most would turn a blind eye toward; helping those who want to live a successful life of sobriety to do so.

Perham 180 started in October 2018 and has had 45% of people who have been in their program graduate from it.

Hannah Frederick (left), Erin Roder (center), and Kate Swanson (right) of Perham 180 accepted the Chamber Choice Humanitarian Award for the successful work done to help those seeking a stable sober life do so. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

The Leadership Award, which goes to an individual who has done an especially good job in leading the community on a project or an important issue, was presented to Darrin Swanson by his brother Brian Swanson.

Brian Swanson said Darrin, who founded Kit Masters and Swan Machine alongside their father, is a quiet leader who leads through teamwork. Darrin is both the chief executive officer and chairman of the board for both companies. He said that Darrin knows every job in Kit Masters and makes it a point to know every one of the people who work for him.

Darrin Swanson said that in 2002, the decision to move the company away from the Twin Cities was made and they chose to move it to Perham. He said the best thing for the company and the community would be for them to be part of the community.

Brian Swanson said Darrin has been involved with the Perham Schools and Chamber of Commerce.


Darrin Swanson was presented the Chamber Choice Leadership Award for his leadership at Kit Masters, Swan Machine, and in the community/ (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

Two Hall of Fame Awards, which go to individuals who deserve to be recognized for their work for the community over time, who would be considered an integral part of the community and highly involved in making Perham a better community, were presented.

The first was presented virtually by Kenny Nelson, the CEO of KLN Family Brands, to Gary Ebeling. Ebeling was a Perham native who passed away in 2019. His wife Donna Ebeling accepted the award on his behalf.

Nelson said that Gary Ebeling started working for him at the age of 18 and was always a bright individual and hard worker.

Ebeling was the general manager when KLN bought Tuffy's Pet Food in 2011. Nelson said Ebeling saved the plant from closing more than once. He said that Ebeling was a humble man who served his community. He served it on the school board, by raising funds for the Perham Area Community Center, and as firefighter for 42 years.

Donna Ebeling accepted the Chamber Choice Hall of Fame Award on behalf of her late husband Gary Ebling. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)


The second Hall of Fame Award was presented virtually to David Arvig by Staci Malikowski.

Arvig, who is now the chief operating officer and vice president of Arvig Enterprises, joined his family’s company after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in economics, starting as the assistant general manager of the Twin Valley office.

Malikowski said Arvig is a quiet leader who has demonstrated community service throughout the course of his career.

Arvig said as someone who stays behind the scene, he never expected to be honored this way. He thanked all those who have helped him to be successful throughout his life and those who nominated him for this honor.

David Arvig accepted the Chamber Choice Hall of Fame Award virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

According to Dan Schroeder, the executive director of the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce, Perham is a community that helps one another and knows that just a good job is not good enough. It is not a community that just aims to get by but is for those who work to be successful. He said that those honored by the chamber at this event are those who have embodied the beliefs of this community.


Kenny Nelson virtually presented Gary Ebeling's Chamber Choice Hall of Fame Award. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

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