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hen it came time for us to plan this year’s Women 360, we knew it would need to look a little different. It’s been a different kind of year, after all. Mask mandates, school closures, business hardships, hospital surges and all the many other ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic meant we couldn’t just move ahead with business as usual. For one thing, our internal process had to change. Social distancing rules have basically taken in-person interviews off the table, and photographs are difficult to get in person, too. Sharing people’s life stories and conveying a sense of their personalities to readers, without ever meeting them face-to-face ourselves, presents a challenge — one that we knew would impact the feel of a magazine full of intimate feature stories like this one. The intent of Women 360 has always been to spotlight exceptional, influential women who make our community a better place. To share their stories, honor their contributions, and spark inspiration among our readers. We didn’t want that to change this year. But we didn’t want to ignore the virus, either. We want this publication to reflect the era we’re in. For every wave of negativity that pulses around the pandemic, we’ve noticed powerful, positive undercurrents — new opportunities for creative thinking, new pathways and approaches to leadership, and an enhanced appreciation for personal connection and small blessings. We decided to feature women who have embraced and embodied these silver linings, putting their talents to use to help lead the community through this turbulent time. Women who have put in extra hours, effort and energy to tackle whatever new challenges arise. Women who have made some hard decisions in their leadership roles, and who have done so with compassion, grace, reason and wisdom. Every woman in this magazine is a standout individual, and together, they paint a greater picture about the Detroit Lakes community — who we are, what we stand for, and how we persevere in the face of adversity. That’s why, this year, we opted not to choose just one “Woman of the Year.” Instead, we have nine of them. We hope you’ll be as encouraged and inspired by their stories as we are. — Marie Johnson, Women 360 Editor

Published by the Detroit Lakes Tribune

511 Washington Avenue • Detroit Lakes Phone: 218-847-3151 • dl-online.com Publisher: Melissa Swenson mswenson@dlnewspapers.com

Magazine Editor: Marie Johnson mtjohnson@dlnewspapers.com Magazine Designer: Tasha Kenyon tkenyon@dlnewspapers.com Circulation Manager: Viola Anderson violaa@dlnewspapers.com

MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTORS Michael Achterling machterling@dlnewspapers.com Nathan Bowe nbowe@dlnewspapers.com Vicki Gerdes vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com

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‘An elementary school is meant to be filled with children’ Roosevelt Principal Trisha Mariotti says educating students through a global pandemic has presented unanticipated challenges STORY BY VICKI GERDES | For Women 360 SUBMITTED PHOTOS


hen students at Detroit Lakes Public Schools in person to learning new technology and how to were sent home last March for an extended deliver instruction virtually. Our paraprofessionals were “spring break,” Roosevelt Elementary Principal working in emergency child care, instead of assisting Trisha Mariotti thought classes would resume in a with daily aspects of school.” couple of weeks. “There were administrative meetings, grade-level “An elementary school is meant to be filled with meetings, meetings with our Title I and special education children,” she says. teachers, meetings with our support staff and meetings As the weeks with empty classrooms and hallways involving decisions around technology,” she adds. stretched on, however, the realization slowly began to sink One of the earliest challenges the schools faced was in in that, thanks to a global pandemic known as the novel setting up distance learning for students whose families coronavirus — or COVID-19 — the students did not have ready access to the internet. wouldn’t be back until fall at the earliest. “Offering our students consistent social Trisha Mariotti with her “We did not have a plan for what to do in and emotional support has also proven to husband, Tony, and their be difficult,” Trisha adds, “but our team of a pandemic, but quickly put one into place,” two children: Isabella, 11, and Rocco, 9. Trisha says. “Our teachers went from teaching counselors and behavior interventionists has 6 | WOMEN 360

done a wonderful job scheduling times to meet with children, whether virtually or over the phone.” She also notes that the district’s staff is working on ways to provide opportunities for children to visit with each other during online meetings scheduled by their teachers. This need was pulled into sharp focus in late September and early October, when Roosevelt students and staff were abruptly forced to switch from in-person classes to remote learning — a change brought about when several staff members, including Trisha herself, tested positive for the virus. “I tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of —Trisha September, and my family and I have been in quarantine since then,” she said on Oct. 6. “Initially, the diagnosis was frustrating and didn’t make sense,” she added, noting that she and her family — including husband Tony, daughter Isabella and son Rocco — followed all the guidelines set by the state health department.

“We have masked from the beginning, avoided large social gatherings, dined only at outside restaurants and limited our social circles,” she says. While some might welcome the chance to stay at home every day, Trisha says working from home is less than ideal: “I cannot wait to return.” One unexpected side benefit, however, has been the added closeness afforded to her family. “During our stay at home, we realized that we have been fortunate to have moved through this difficult time together, as many have not had that same opportunity,” Trisha says. While it has only been six Mariotti years since Trisha started her job as Roosevelt principal, she has been a resident of Detroit Lakes since 1997. “I moved to Detroit Lakes for my first teaching position,” she says. That job involved working with hearing impaired children of all ages. After doing that for 10 years, she moved into a Title I teaching position, working with

Long-term effects of this pandemic on education might be very positive. They could include more adaptive learning ideas such as flipped classrooms and options for online teaching, tutoring and even counseling opportunities.

Trisha, left, says it has been important for her and her staff at Roosevelt Elementary to maintain a sense of humor during the COVID-19 pandemic. She and staff members Karilee Traurig (vice principal), Kelly Westrum (administrative assistant) and Connie Johnson (administrative assistant) had these shirts custom-printed for a bit of on-the-job fun.

WOMEN 360 | 7

small groups of students on Trisha praised the school’s reading and math. staff and students for their “I also taught for two years extra efforts at that time, in a first grade classroom (at noting, “I’m really proud Roosevelt),” she adds. of the work that we do at It was then that she Roosevelt, and I think it’s a decided a change from great feeling for our staff to classroom teaching to school be acknowledged for their administration was in order. efforts. And our students have “I was ready for something worked really hard — they’re different,” she says, noting the reason that we’re here.” that she’d been involved in Though some of the curriculum-building activities changes wrought by COVIDfor the district since she first 19 upon K-12 education Trisha has made it a point to follow all the COVID-19 safety started working in Detroit in Minnesota may be precautions — including wearing a mask at work — since the Lakes, and it was something permanent, Trisha says, pandemic began. Nevertheless, she was diagnosed with the virus in late September, and quarantined at home with her that interested her. not all those changes are family after that. “I was involved in the necessarily bad. Detroit Lakes curriculum “Long-term effects of committee the entire time I this pandemic on education was here,” she says, adding that she was the site team might be very positive,” she says. “They could include chair at one time. “I was always involved in those aspects more adaptive learning ideas such as flipped classrooms of the school, and I found I liked the challenge of it. and options for online teaching, tutoring and even “After obtaining my administrative license, I became the counseling opportunities. In our district, we are also elementary principal in Ogema, working for the Waubuncontinually looking for ways to shrink the socioeconomic Ogema-White Earth School District,” Trisha says. divide by offering meals, providing child care when After a year at Ogema, she learned there was an opening for a principal at Roosevelt, and applied for, was offered, and accepted the position. A couple of years later, TELL US the school received state recognition for the progress of WHAT its multiracial students in reading comprehension. YOU LOVE, Roosevelt was one of 171 schools in the state — the top 5% of all schools in Minnesota — to receive the WE’LL recognition, according to the Minnesota Department MAKE IT of Education. HAPPEN Roosevelt students who identify as multiracial (being of two or more races) were found to be making significant Call North achievement on reading progress over time, under the America’s #1 provider of education department’s North Star accountability system. custom window About 14% of all Roosevelt students identified themselves coverings and as multiracial at that time. get the style and personalized service you deserve!

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possible during distance learning, and providing technological devices to all students.” Ultimately, however, it’s still the relationships between students, teachers, staff and parents that provide the foundation for a good education. “Research consistently tells us that fostering supportive, caring relationships with students is the key to success, regardless of the instructional setting,” says Trisha. “That will continue to be a focus for us all.” 

Research consistently tells us that fostering supportive, caring relationships with students is the key to success, regardless of the instructional setting. That will continue to be a focus for us all.

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Tackling the health tolls of COVID-19 Jenny Lessman, a physician’s assistant at Sanford Health, lets her faith guide her as she helps her patients through the pandemic STORY BY MICHAEL ACHTERLING | For Women 360 SUBMITTED & FILE PHOTOS


You have to acknowledge that their feelings are real, and that it is OK that they are feeling that way — to realize that we are living in a pandemic and that this is stressful, but they are not alone in this.

enny Lessman so admired the physician’s assistant who cared for her as a girl, that she was inspired to become one herself. That woman, Jenny recalls, “was just so sweet, and —Jenny Lessman so kind, and so thorough and had all the time for me. She was actually listening and cared … And I never felt threatened, or worried about going in to see her to talk about health issues.” For her, that experience normalized the relationship between herself as a patient and her health Today an OB-GYN at Sanford Health in care provider. Jenny Lessman views Detroit Lakes, Jenny fell in love with women’s Physician’s assistants are an essential part an ultrasound screen health during her first job after graduating from of any health care provider’s team, Jenny says, while performing college. She attended the University of Nebraska as they allow patients to have improved access an ultrasound. Medical Center in Omaha, where she obtained a to care when their doctor is busy with other master’s degree in physician assistant studies. patients. Physician’s assistants also have the Voted “Best Physician’s Assistant” in the Detroit Lakes ability to help with surgeries, make rounds on hospital Tribune’s 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards, Jenny’s patients floors and prescribe medications. praise her as the kind of provider who “takes the time to “It really takes the burden off the short staff (of a really listen” to them. clinic), or the shortage of healthcare providers,” she says. Listening – really listening – to patients, and having As such, physician’s assistants make everything run a good bedside manner, are the secrets to medicine and more smoothly, she says. They can extend professional caring for people, Jenny says. expertise across a variety of medical fields, and go In fact, she bases her practice on this William Osler where they are needed. They usually serve in a variety quote: “Compassion is not antiquated. It remains a of clinics, hospitals or emergency rooms throughout crucial factor in healing and will never go out of style. It their professional lives, giving them the ability to help is always available for any health care professional who more people. All these qualities of the job have always is wise enough to claim it.” appealed to Jenny. 10 | WOMEN 360

Jenny has been in her current role at the local Sanford clinic for the past 15 years. She says she noticed a dramatic falloff in traffic there during the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders last spring. “People were terrified to come to the clinic,” she says. “People were slow to come in for their preventative health things, and people were scared to come in if something was wrong.” Many of the staff at the OB-GYN clinic had their hours reduced, she says, but over time, patients began to slowly start coming back to the clinic. This fall, several months into the pandemic, clinicians started to notice the mental health aspects of extended social distancing, she says: “Profound anxiety, impending doom, restlessness, and just lots of unease with the unknown. I think the mental health effects of COVID, we haven’t even scratched the surface.”

People were terrified to come to the clinic. People were slow to come in for their preventative health things, and people were scared to come in if something was wrong. —Jenny Lessman

WOMEN 360 | 11

She also started seeing increased mental strain on the nurses and doctors within the clinic, and wants people to know that mental health affects everyone. “You have to acknowledge that their feelings are real,” she says, “and that it is OK that they are feeling that way — to realize that we are living in a pandemic and that this is stressful, but they are not alone in this.” Jenny says it is important for patients, and everyone, to address their mental health issues by “shining a light on it” and not bottling up their feelings. She adds that self-care is more important now than ever before. Eating well, communicating with family and friends, getting enough sleep, a well balanced diet, exercising and sticking to a routine can be important in relieving potential stress before it builds up. Some of the people who come into the clinic with signs of mental illness are scared and don’t understand what is happening to them, Jenny says. Being emotionally “there” for them is a large part in the power of medicine. “You don’t have to have all of the answers,” she says, “but you need to know either who to ask, or where to look it up.” Jenny wants all of her patients to be treated in the same way that she would expect to be treated if she wandered into her own clinic. She takes the Golden Rule to heart, which is a large part of her Christian faith. “The core of Christian faith is to love yourself, and love your neighbor, and to love your God,” she says. “And when you live it, and when you feel it in your bones, it just kind of pours out of you.” Jenny is an active member of Lakes Area Vineyard Church and is especially involved with women’s ministry. She also volunteers twice a month with the nonprofit pro-life clinic, Health Resources. She was born in 1979 in Sidney, Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in biology before continuing her master’s program. She and her husband, Josh, have a set of fraternal twins, Graham and Charley, 8. Jenny can usually be found at the lake with her family when she’s not at work. She also enjoys going for runs, taking naps, reading, putting puzzles together, and walking her dogs. 

Jenny, with a patient at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes. far-right:

Jenny poses for a family portrait with her husband, Josh, and their fraternal twins, Graham and Charley.




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A long-term care leader in a shortturnaround time Danielle Olson’s second year as head of Ecumen Detroit Lakes senior community has been fraught with rapidfire rule changes and other pandemic-related challenges

Even simple tasks like delivering the mail, serving meals, dropping off supplies and providing basic patient care had to be completely reevaluated and revamped. “We weren’t able to have our vendors come in the building, so items had to be dropped off in specific areas STORY BY VICKI GERDES | For Women 360 so someone could go out, bring them into the building SUBMITTED PHOTOS and deliver them to the area where they belonged,” she says. “And for all those things we were not able to bring into the building, we had to find different ways to meet t was March 13, 2020 — Friday the 13th, as it that need, or maybe even forego some things entirely.” happens — when Danielle Olson’s life was turned Intertwined with that was the sudden isolation of the upside down. residents, who could no longer receive visitors of any That was the day she learned Ecumen Detroit Lakes, kind — even volunteers who had come in regularly to the senior living community where she had been the perform various tasks and interact with them were no executive director for less a year, was going to be forced longer able to do so. to close its doors to visitors — whether those visitors “It was incredibly emotional for all of us,” Danielle were vendors delivering supplies, or relatives and friends says. “We have so many tremendous families and friends of the residents and staff. that help and support our residents, and for them to not “It was in the week leading up to it that COVID-19 be able to come in the building was a challenge.” started getting more national attention,” recalls Danielle. At first, it looked as though the isolation would be a “Before that, we had heard of it, but it really temporary thing, lasting a few weeks at most, became real that day.” but as the weeks dragged on into months, The residents were asked to stay in their Danielle Olson and her the staff and residents had to get increasingly rooms as much as possible, interacting with husband, Caleb, with their daughters Elise, creative about how they interacted, both with each other infrequently, if at all — and when Amelia and Emma. each other and the outside world. they did, they had to wear masks at all times.


14 | WOMEN 360

“If there’s one thing that we’ve learned through this She credits her husband with providing the support pandemic, it’s that we certainly have the ability to be she needs to be able to keep up with the demands of a creative in how we do our work,” says Danielle. career in healthcare administration. Elderly residents who had never so much as picked up “Caleb is an incredibly supportive husband,” she says. a computer tablet or used a smartphone in their lives “We wouldn’t be able to do our life together if we didn’t were learning — with a lot of help from Ecumen’s staff have such a great partnership.” — how to do Facetime calls, and Facebook video chats Though she now knows healthcare administration and Zoom meetings. is where her heart lies, Slowly, more face-to-face Danielle admits she wasn’t interactions were allowed, quite sure what direction her first with window visits — career would take when she where visitors would stand or graduated from high school sit outside residents’ windows and enrolled at Concordia and chat with them on their College in Moorhead. smartphones — and then, “I like to tell people that it as the weather warmed up, was the one time I’m glad I outdoor visits, with masks on listened to my parents,” she at all times. says. “As an 18-year-old trying — Danielle Olson As of this writing in early to figure out what to do with fall, a limited number of the rest of my life, I decided indoor visits were being to have a talk with them, allowed, mostly for residents and they said there was this on hospice care who are nearing the end of their lives. program at Concordia, for healthcare administration.” It was unknown when, or if, these restrictions will The program combined healthcare with business — begin to loosen. both things that appealed to the young Danielle — so “The days of just stopping by and going right to your she enrolled in the program. friend or relative’s room for a visit — those days are As she neared graduation, she says, she had an behind us, at least at this point in time,” she says. opportunity to take an internship at a local, familyOn the home front, there has been much less owned assisted living facility, where she got to divide upheaval. Danielle says she actually enjoys the daily her time between the various administrative tasks they commute to work from the home east of Wolf Lake that asked of her and spending time with the residents, she shares with her husband, Caleb, and their three learning their stories and engaging in different activities daughters, ages 7, 5 and 2. with them. “I can take country roads, and from my house to “I really fell in love with long-term care while doing my my office, it’s 30-35 minutes,” she says, adding that internship there,” she says. “It reaffirmed to me that this the commute from her previous job at Sunnyside Care was really where my heart was.” Center in rural Lake Park was quite a bit longer. “I grew up living in the country,” she says, adding that her childhood home was in Butler, a small rural community near New York Mills. “Anywhere we went was a drive, so I’m used to that. What I’ve found is that it (the drive) really gives me some time to get ready for the day. I can go through the things I need to get done that day and process what I think my day is going to look like.” “Then on the way home, I really compartmentalize what I need to follow up on the next day,” she adds. “So when I get home it’s a little easier to shift into that mom/ family mode because I’ve had some Danielle, left, the executive director of Ecumen Detroit Lakes, shares a laugh with Tillie, a longtime time to put that (work) stuff aside.” nursing home resident, and Dani, an intern from Concordia College whom Danielle mentored in 2019.

I know we’ve all heard so many times how we’re all in this together, but here at Ecumen, we truly are.

WOMEN 360 | 15

As she was completing her degree at Concordia, Danielle took advantage of another opportunity, and accepted her first post-collegiate job with Ecumen, at Heritage Community in Park Rapids. “I was director of housing and community services,” she says. “I stayed there for a couple of years, and while I was there, I worked on becoming licensed as a nursing home administrator.” Her first job in that field after completing her degree was at Sunnyside Care Center, where she served as executive director for a little over six years. Then, the position at Ecumen Detroit Lakes opened up. “I loved the opportunity to work at Sunnyside, but I wanted to grow and learn how to operate a larger


facility,” she says. So when she was offered the job at Detroit Lakes in 2019, she took it. “As executive director here in Detroit Lakes, I oversee the whole Ecumen campus, which offers the full continuum of care,” Danielle says. She supervises between 250-260 employees, plus 227 residents at all of Ecumen’s facilities, including a nursing home, assisted living facility and various other forms of senior housing. “It has been quite challenging,” she admits of her first year on the job. She says she’s been very fortunate to have such a strong team of fellow caregivers working alongside her through this difficult time.

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“We have, hands down, the best team of people possible providing care here,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to have a supportive management team, and everyone here is working incredibly hard.” “One of the biggest things for us has been just trying to keep up with the changes in regulations,” she says, adding that in all her years in the field, “I haven’t seen a time where we have had our regulations change as quickly and frequently as they have in the last six months. “There have been times when it felt like in the morning we were going in one direction and by that afternoon, we were going in a completely different direction, because our guidance or regulations had changed. Trying to stay on top of all that and make sure it is all implemented correctly has been one of my greater struggles, because it is very time intensive. “I’ve spent a lot of extra time here, and working at home, and on weekends, making sure we provide the best care that we can for our residents. “I know we’ve all heard so many times how we’re all in this together, but here at Ecumen, we truly are,” Danielle says. “Our housing team is supporting our nursing home team, and our nursing home team is supporting our housing team. If someone needs help, someone else steps up and provides it … We have really come together as a campus.” 

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Working on the side of Laker Pride

Abby Pettit, Detroit Lakes High School’s activities assistant, has learned to stay positive and ‘just roll with it’ when unexpected things happen STORY BY VICKI GERDES | For Women 360 SUBMITTED PHOTOS


f Abby and Troy Pettit and their two children had a Colorado — it was his dream job,” she says. “He got the theme song, it would probably be, “Roll With It,” by job (at Castle Pines Golf Course), and then told me I was Steve Winwood. The Detroit Lakes family has had to moving out there with him. I didn’t have anything else deal with a lot of unexpected changes, both before and going on at the time, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was a during the coronavirus pandemic. new adventure.” “I feel like it’s all a learning experience for everyone After a few years in Denver, the couple moved back right now,” says Abby, who is starting her seventh to their hometown in 2005, and have been permanent year as an activities and athletics program assistant at Detroit Lakes residents ever since. Detroit Lakes High School. “No one’s gotten a handle on “Both of our families are here, and we loved growing this yet … We just have to go day by day.” up in Detroit Lakes,” Abby says. “We wanted that for our A Detroit Lakes native, Abby says she and kids, too.” her husband Troy grew up as friends. The Pettits have two children: a daughter “My husband and I were both born and named Rhyen, who is a freshman at Detroit Abby Pettit, center, raised here,” she says. “We’ve been friends since Lakes High School this year, and son Hudson, a poses with some of her we were nine years old.” 7th grader at the middle school. fellow Detroit Lakes High After college, their friendship grew into “This is not how we imagined our daughter School staff members during a dress-up day at something more. starting high school,” says Abby. “But they’ve the school. “Right out of college, I asked my uncle to both always been ‘go with the flow’ kids. get an interview for Troy at a golf course in They’ve learned that things change all the 18 | WOMEN 360

That’s...hard, not just for the parents, but for the fans who love to come watch and support the teams. It’s a huge change. But the bright side is that the kids are playing — they’re still allowed to play and participate. We just need to focus on the positive stuff and keep going. —Abby Pettit, on spectator limits during the pandemic

time. They’ve adjusted quite well to the situation, so we’re lucky in that way.” Both Rhyen and Hudson were eager to return to classes at their respective schools this fall, even if it was on a part-time basis — both the middle and high schools began the year with a hybrid learning model, which means a combination of in-person and online classes. “They were very excited to get to go back and see their friends,” says Abby. Though her job as activities and athletics assistant has always involved a certain amount of adaptability, Abby says this year has been particularly volatile, with coronavirus restrictions in a constant state of flux. “Parents can’t go to watch their kids swim or play volleyball right now,” she says, “and even for outdoor events like football and soccer, there is a limit on the number of spectators allowed (250 people or less).” “That’s going to be hard, not just for the parents, but for the fans who love to come watch and support the teams,” she adds. “It’s a huge change. But the bright side is that the kids are playing — they’re still allowed to play (in games) and participate (in activities). We just need to focus on the positive stuff and keep going. “It’s always challenging, and I’m lucky that I have an amazing director … Rob (Nielsen) is focused on making sure the students have the best experience possible. That makes it easier to stay positive.” Apart from work and family activities, Abby has been very active in the United Way of Becker County for several years. She currently sits on the board of directors, and was instrumental in revitalizing the organization’s Food 4 Thought Backpack Program, which distributes backpacks filled with nutritious food to children in need throughout the county.

“We helped bring awareness to the program, and once people realized the need was there, the program took off on its own,” she says. One of the more fun things that she and her fellow United Way volunteers did to bring attention to the program was organize a team for the annual Northwest Water Carnival Bed Races, held in July. “We were four-time champions!” she says with a broad smile. Program volunteers also served up meals in Central Market’s parking lot food trailer several times, as a means of raising funds for the program during the spring and summer months (the United Way’s biggest annual fundraising campaign takes place in the fall). Abby has also made multiple presentations about the program to local service groups, like Rotary and Kiwanis. “The more people heard about it, the more they wanted to help,” she says. Abby also credited the late Duane Dunrud, who was the school district’s food services manager for many years, with helping her get the program off the ground. Besides the United Way, both Abby and her husband Troy are heavily involved in the Detroit Lakes Youth Hockey Association. In past years, they have managed

Abby, front, with fellow Lakers Liz McCann and Joleen Skolte, takes a selfie before the 2018 Detroit Lakes High School Homecoming Parade.

WOMEN 360 | 19

Troy, Hudson, Abby and Rhyen Pettit in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which is one of their favorite vacation spots.

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the concession stand at Kent Freeman Arena, and this year, they took over as tournament coordinators for the program. “I had everything set (schedule-wise) this summer, so now it’s just ‘wait and see,’” says Abby of the hockey schedule. “We’re just rolling with it. What else can you do?” The Pettits’ collective “go with the flow” philosophy also helped see them through a vacation snafu in Mexico a couple of years ago. The family had just enjoyed a fun week’s stay at Cabo Villas Beach Resort and Spa — which is owned by Detroit Lakes couple Jed and Amy Erickson — when their Sun Country Airlines flight back to the U.S. was canceled due to a massive late season April snowstorm in the Twin Cities. The storm caused Sun Country to cancel all its weekend flights from Cabo San Lucas to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The timing unhappily coincided with the end of seasonal service to Sun Country’s vacation destinations, and no further flights from Mexico were on the airline’s schedule


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until June — which left the Pettits, and many others, scrambling to catch a flight on another airline. Several days later, they finally arrived home, with a story to tell that made headlines with several local media outlets, including the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Abby credits the Ericksons with ensuring that their unexpectedly extended vacation was as stress free as possible. “Jed (Erickson) happened to be there that weekend,” says Abby. “He was great. He said, ‘Just let us know (how long they needed to stay).’ The staff was wonderful, so helpful and accommodating.” She is likewise effusive in praising her co-workers at Detroit Lakes High School, whom she says help make her job fun. “It makes it so much easier when you know you have great coaches and advisors who really care about the kids,” Abby says. That supportive environment has continued throughout the current pandemic, she adds: “I think everyone did an amazing job, in a situation that no one had ever been in before. They figured a lot of things out in a very short time, without any real idea of what was happening.” More than half a year later, pandemic restrictions are still in place, though not quite as extensively as they were in the beginning.

When classes resumed this fall, with more time to prepare, the district had refined the process of transitioning between in-school and remote learning, to make the switch smoother — something that was put to the test on the first day of school at the high school, when a staff member’s positive COVID-19 test necessitated a quick pivot from the planned hybrid learning model to completely remote learning instead. “I feel like it’s all been one big learning experience for everyone,” says Abby, referring to the ongoing pandemic. “We’re not always going to get it right, but if we learn something from all of it, maybe we can come up with some sort of ‘life playbook’ when it’s finally over.” 


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WOMEN 360 | 21

Finding the funds to make ends meet Lots of energy and a ‘can-do’ attitude helps Midwest Bank’s Jessica Burhans — and her business clientele — cope with the pandemic STORY BY NATHAN BOWE | For Women 360 SUBMITTED PHOTOS


ven introverts are struggling with the COVID-19 At its most basic, that means listening to customers, pandemic, but it’s really been a challenge for highdetermining their business needs, and helping them energy, outgoing people like Jessica Burhans, who choose the right loan products. Someone who applies for recharge by interacting with others. a car loan, for example, could actually be better off with “When you’re a people person, it’s hard not to have a home equity loan, depending on their overall situation. that interaction,” she says. Jessica says loan officers need to really get to know their For the past three years, Jessica, 44, has been a customers to help them decide on the right type of loan. business development officer at Midwest Bank, which “That’s one of the reasons I love banking,” she says. has seven branches all within 80 minutes of Detroit “You have to put yourself in the (business) owner’s Lakes, she says. shoes and figure out what’s best for them, what’s going Prior to the pandemic, she regularly traveled to make their company more efficient. A big to those various branches and worked with part of banking is asking a lot of questions to bankers on planning for new clients and understand their business.” Jessica Burhans and her daughter, McKenna, expanding existing relationships. Enter the pandemic pose for a fall picture “We don’t have sales goals at Midwest,” surrounded by pumpkins. With the COVID-19 pandemic, “everyone has she explains. “We encourage them (bankers) Jessica loves decorating had to pivot and really look at different ways to take care of our customers.” for holidays. 22 | WOMEN 360

keep their workforce employed during the pandemic. of taking care of clients and interacting with clients,” Those Small Business Administration loans are handled says Jessica. by local banks, and “we had bankers working late nights, For example, Midwest Bank now has curbside service. early mornings just to accommodate them,” says Jessica. “Our bankers will go out and sign loan documents so people can stay in their car,” she says. “It depends on people’s comfort level. If they’re comfortable with faceMom showed her the way to face, or mask-to-mask meetings, we’ll do that.” In a way, Jessica says, banking is a bit like a doctor People have also been making more use of physical thoroughly questioning a patient to come up with the distancing opportunities at Midwest, like drive-through right diagnosis. banking, online banking and Energetic, bright and caring, automatic bill-pay. Jessica would have made a It helps to approach change good doctor, and actually with a positive attitude, wanted to go that route when Jessica says: “Change and she was younger, but, “I can’t flexibility have always been handle the sight of blood,” a strength of mine, and she says simply. “Banking was another way to help people.” attitude through the change She was influenced by her is so important.” mom, Von Stoen, who spent a “Some people who were — Jessica Burhans, on handling career in banking and passed afraid of technology have come pandemic-related business loans her love for the field down to to love technology, because it her daughter. She also handed (the pandemic) forced them down a great attitude toward to try things,” she adds. “The getting involved, caring about younger generation often don’t the community, and helping set foot in the building — everything is done online.” people in need. And showed Jessica how to have fun while Pandemic or not, things have been busy at the bank, living a busy, organized life. Jessica says: “The mortgage side of things has been That life includes husband Brian, who works in sales very, very busy. With (low interest) rates, people are at Metal Sales in Detroit Lakes, and three kids: Logan, looking at ways to pay their mortgage off sooner.” 20, now in his second year in the architectural design The pandemic has also brought a flood of federal program at M State; McKenna, 17, a senior at Detroit Paycheck Protection Program loans, helping businesses

We had bankers working late nights, early mornings just to accommodate them.

A volunteer ditch-cleaning crew from the Detroit Lakes Noon Rotary Club, including Jessica, far left, poses for a photo. Jessica is a long-time member of the club.

WOMEN 360 | 23

Lakes High School; and Brock, 12, a seventh-grader at Detroit Lakes Middle School. “We’re a hockey family,” Jessica says. All three kids are or were hockey players, and that requires a high level of family organization and commitment all by itself. It helps that Midwest Bank, from its president on down, values family time and understands the benefits of a healthy work-life balance, she says. That has allowed her to fully participate in the community, from being a Chamber ambassador to a Rotarian to a First Lutheran Church council member. Jessica is a past United Way board member and is on a committee for the high school’s Academy business program. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed: She was named Rotarian of the Year in June by the Detroit Lakes Noon Rotary Club. “I truly like it (being involved in the community) and encourage other people to get involved and have fun,” she says, adding that her attitude has always been, “you get to be a part of this, you don’t have to volunteer.” Jessica has now been with Midwest bank for over 11 years, and she says she didn’t end up there by accident: “We’re constantly giving back to the community. That’s why I’m at Midwest, because of how well we take care of customers, and the importance of community.” Top bank leadership, she adds, ”is always behind any idea that embraces community.” 

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Caring for ‘the littles’ in a big, scary time Mary Rotter, a teacher and owner at Laker Prep Preschool, has kept her ship sailing — and crew happy — through stormy seas STORY & PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ACHTERLING | For Women 360


households only, and Mary strained to make ends meet verfilled with emotion and gratitude, Mary when her daily enrollment dwindled from 80 to just 15 Rotter struggled to say through her tears that, kids per day. “It’s been humbling, because our communities “We were able to access grants and loans and stuff to and our families have stood behind us (throughout the help us stay afloat, but we did not want to lay off any of COVID-19 pandemic). The governor asked child care to our staff,” she recalls. “Our parents stepped up and kept stay open, so we did.” paying, so when May 18 came, all of our Mary is a teacher and owner of Laker Prep staff were able to return, and all of our kids Preschool and Early Childhood Center in were able to return.” Detroit Lakes, one of the community’s only Mary Rotter, teacher and Mary started the Laker Prep Preschool ‘wraparound care’ combined preschool/child owner of Laker Prep Preschool program in 2011, enrolling four-year-olds care centers. and Early Childhood Center, During Minnesota’s stay-at-home order and kids who were eligible for kindergarten. practices handwriting with last spring, Laker Prep was able to continue The program quickly filled to its capacity of students at the school. providing child care to dual-essential-worker 25 kids. WOMEN 360 | 25

In 2015, her husband, Eric, joined the business, and the preschool expanded to include a second building and an early childhood center, open to children from 8 weeks to 6 years old. This provided parents with a onestop-shop for all their kids’ early childhood development and care needs. Laker Prep has been at its capacity of 80 children ever since — except for those several weeks during the stay-at-home order. During that uncertain time, Mary says, Laker Prep was able to continue to pay its workers their normal wages, even those who were working fewer hours than usual, thanks to government and community support. With early childhood teachers already underpaid, she adds, she believed it was her — responsibility to make sure her staff members were able to stay afloat through the stay-at-home order. According to payscale.com, an early childhood educator’s average wage in the U.S. is $13.54 per hour. Mary says she wants the public to know that child care is in crisis in this country. “Talk to any parent, in any community, and they will tell you that it is really hard to find consistent child care

for your child,” she says. “There are not many states that are stepping up and trying to start solving this problem of, ‘How do we get more workers into child care and pay them a livable wage that they are worth?’” Mary says Minnesota is one of the states that isn’t just paying lip service to child care workers, but is actively putting money aside and creating grants to help the industry. One of the ways the industry advocates for itself is through volunteer associations. Mary is a member of the Becker County Early Childhood Initiative and West Central Initiative Childcare Centers Directors Group. These organizations lobby state legislators to pass bills and Rotter create additional funding to help the struggling industry. The problem, she says, is profits: “A profit model in a successful child care center is about 3%. Lots of people want to help, but they don’t want to run them (the centers) because it’s a big risk, and 75% of the income goes to staffing.” Laker Prep has a staff of 25 that oversee all facets of the operation, from instruction to snacks and cleaning.

My story is only one of the stories of child care. There have been plenty of people who have had to close … So we feel very fortunate that things aligned for us. Mary

Mary Rotter, teacher and owner of Laker Prep Preschool and Early Childhood Center, reads with students at the school.

26 | WOMEN 360

Mary says she doesn’t want her story of making it through this turbulent time to translate into everyday citizens believing child care, as a whole, is in a good position for the future, because it isn’t. “My story is only one of the stories of child care,” she says. “There have been plenty of people who have had to close and weren’t able to reap the benefits … So we feel very fortunate that things aligned for us. We had a lucky situation that we were able to keep moving because we were determined to keep those spots open.” Born in Detroit Lakes in 1974, Mary is a Detroit Lakes High School graduate. She attended and graduated from Augsburg University in St. Paul with a degree in elementary education, and also obtained a K-12 reading licensure, which allows her to meet the state qualifications for reading instruction for students of any age. Mary began her career as a kindergarten teacher at Hope Community Academy and taught kindergarten for 10 years, gaining a unique perspective that came in handy when she decided to move back to Detroit Lakes and start a preschool. She noticed that kindergarteners who had prior instruction — from a parent, grandparent or childhood development center — met more social, physical and intellectual development milestones than kids without any prior instruction. “Kids come with all different experiences, so sometimes it takes extra help to get them ready for kindergarten and sometimes it comes naturally,” she says. “But the same thing we can give them is quality care and they...will be better off.” Mary says she sees quality care as something that doesn’t necessarily have to come from an expensive tutoring and childcare center, but could just be a teacher or loved one spending some dedicated time with a child to work on their skills. Mary and Eric have two children, a son named Cole, 11, and daughter Etta, 8. While Mary says the whole family enjoys being on the lake, she prefers boat rides and sunshine to casting a fishing line. She is an avid golfer and sits on the Growth of the Game committee at Lakeview Golf Course, which aims to expand the game of golf among area youth and make golf more accessible to everyone. She is a member of the Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotary and an active member at Augustana Lutheran Church, and has taken part in fundraisers for the Becker County Museum and Detroit Lakes Library. Women today, she says, can do anything they want: “We can have families, be an entrepreneur, an executive, a nonprofit leader, a volunteer, and be confident enough to take care of ourselves mentally and physically without feeling guilty. However, it doesn’t happen without a compassionate community behind us every step of the way.” 

Mary poses for a selfie with her husband, Eric, and their children, Cole and Etta. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

(Women today) can have families, be an entrepreneur, an executive, a nonprofit leader, a volunteer, and be confident enough to take care of ourselves mentally and physically without feeling guilty. However, it doesn’t happen without a compassionate community behind us every step of the way. — Mary Rotter

WOMEN 360 | 27

3,000 masks and counting Community-minded and skilled at sewing, Mary Erickson put herself to work as Essentia’s biggest mask donor STORY & PHOTOS BY MARIE JOHNSON | For Women 360


ary Erickson is a one-woman mask-making Jean Wallace, who works in hospitality at Essentia and machine. Since COVID-19’s unwelcome arrival got to know Mary during her weekly donation drop-offs, in Minnesota last spring, the Cormorant woman says, “She was such a blessing for us. She saved the day.” has sewn and donated an estimated 3,000 masks — and There were days during the nationwide scramble for is still going. Most of those, about 2,500, she estimates, PPE (personal protective equipment) when Essentia’s were donated to Essentia Health St. Mary’s in Detroit supply of masks would nearly run out, Jean explains, Lakes, to help combat shortages there in the early days “and it was almost like Mary knew that, and the next day of the pandemic. she’d be there with 200 to 300 masks for us.” By this fall, the demand at Essentia had eased, but Used by patients, visitors and employees, Mary’s Mary was still sewing masks at her home every day, masks are made from her own store of cloth scraps, bed focusing her energies on meeting the needs of area sheets and other soft fabric, or from sterilized surgical schools, her local beauty shop, and any other places that material supplied to her by Essentia. They either tie reached out to her. behind the head or have elastic ear straps to suit A representative for Essentia said that different needs and preferences. as of late September, Mary had donated Although Mary is an experienced, more masks during the pandemic than skilled sewer, she says her first attempts Mary Erickson still lives on her own at any other person or business, accounting at making the masks didn’t go very well, the family farmhouse in Cormorant that she bought with her late husband, Duane, for almost a quarter of all masks donated as high-quality elastic was initially hard shortly after their marriage in 1953. to the Detroit Lakes facility. to find, and each mask requires multiple 28 | WOMEN 360

steps from start to finish. It took a while to develop a routine, she says, but eventually she was cranking out 10 masks in an hour. At peak, she was spending about 4 to 6 hours a day sewing masks. A sprawling setup in her basement is perfectly suited for this kind of sewing operation, with a plywood-covered pool table that serves as a large cutting and measuring board, a tall cupboard to store material, another smaller work table, and two sewing machines, among other equipment and storage areas. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun and it’s been — Jean Wallace, rewarding,” she says. “It’s something I can do, and I enjoy it, and it’s helping. I’ve gotten a lot of smiles.” “She’s such a great lady,” Jean says of Mary. “She’s just a joy. She just blows me away with all the things she does.”

Villages: A History of the Cormorant Area,” and has led a talk about the town’s history in front of a crowd at the Cormorant Community Center. Some of the stories and photographs she’s curated about Cormorant’s history have been made into educational displays at the community center, and hang on the walls there like exhibits in a museum. An active member of St. Mary’s of the Lakes Catholic Church since 1951, Mary also does some volunteer work for her late husband Duane’s former church, Cormorant Lutheran Church, for which she recently helped make a Essentia Health map of the church cemetery. She’s been a 4-H Club leader, a tutor, a piano teacher, and helped run the gift shop at the Cormorant Community Center for about 10 to 12 years. “So I haven’t just been sitting here,” she says of her life since retirement. Even in this quiet era of social distancing, Mary manages to stay busy. She has her sewing, of course, but also reads, plays piano, does puzzles with a friend and, when the weather’s nice, meets up with a neighbor for soup and wine at a picnic shelter at her lakeside property. She also has her kids close by, and gets to see them on a regular basis. Her son, Tim, runs her farm now, as well as his own farm just up the road, and she says her two other surviving children, Deborah and Mark, also live nearby. Her eldest son, Leon, has passed.

She was such a blessing for us. She saved the day.

All the things she does

At 88 years old, Mary says she’s had “a very rewarding, full life” — and still does. A retired teacher and dairy farmer, she’s a lifelong sewer, prolific quilter and crocheter, historian, avid traveler, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, published author, churchgoer, and frequent volunteer. She’s also a pianist, square dancer, and former snowmobiler and occasional horse rider. “You name it, I probably have done it,” she says. “I’ve never been afraid to try something.” Even before her full-time mask-making endeavor, Mary made frequent use of her sewing room. She creates baby clothes for the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center, something she’s been doing for the past 25 or 30 years, and also makes quilts and afghans for church bazaars, community fundraisers and her friends and family. One of her own personal quilts is made from her late mother’s old dresses; another from handkerchiefs that her students gifted her back in her early days of teaching. She’s written a book about Cormorant’s early Since COVID-19 hit last spring, Mary has been spending 4-6 hours a day in the sewing room she’s set up in homesteaders, “A Tale of Two her basement, making masks for the Detroit Lakes hospital, local schools and other places in need. WOMEN 360 | 29

“It was the romance of Cormorant at that time,” Mary recalls. The couple married in 1953, and bought the farm from Duane’s mother shortly after that. They had very little money to start with, but managed to build a milkhouse and got into the business of making Grade A milk. Mary would ‘What more could drive the big farm machines, baling hay you ask for?’ and combining, with her small children Raised on Pearl Lake in Detroit Lakes sitting alongside her. Over the years, since the age of nine, Mary graduated the couple bought more cows, more from Detroit Lakes High School land, more equipment, and put up in 1950 and then went right into more outbuildings. teaching, starting with a job at the little “We worked very hard,” she says. “And schoolhouse in Cormorant in 1951. we made it. We’ve done very well.” Despite the challenges of teaching Today, the Erickson farm has grown to eight grades at once, Mary says, “It was include 160 acres of farmland, pasture great. It was fun! The kids were super.” Mary, in her 1950 Detroit Lakes and lakeshore around the original It was there that she met Duane. A High School graduation picture. farmhouse, plus another 80 acres across well-known third-generation descendant the street from there and an additional of one of Cormorant’s original 160 acres down the road. Beef cattle and homesteaders, Nels Erickson, Duane crop farming are the main revenue generators now: the worked on the family farm and loved to ride horses. He dairy business was sold in 2000. took a liking to the town’s new schoolteacher and began Throughout their years of farming, Mary was usually making regular visits to woo her, riding up to the school teaching, as well. She taught in Lake Park for a few years, on horseback. then went back to school and got her teaching degree. “I’ve been sitting out here on the farm, sewing masks and baby clothes, my kids are able to come out and see me… I’ve been lucky,” she says of her COVID-19 experience. “I do have some days that are lonely, but I haven’t been as isolated as some people have.”

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After that, she taught second grade in Pelican Rapids for 10 years. “Kids have always been important to me,” she says. “Kids are so eager to learn, and so eager to help you, and so eager to please.” After heart surgery and a battle with cancer left her feeling like “life was getting a little short,” Mary decided to retire early from teaching, at age 50, — Mary to focus on her family, the farm, and her many community involvements. She’d host big family picnics and reunions by the lake and invite nieces, nephews and “city kids” to come stay with her and Duane for a while to experience life on the farm. She also spent a lot of time with her grandkids. Duane, who was a very active community leader himself, would offer horse-drawn hay rides at community events and sleigh rides at Christmas. Together, the Ericksons were a fun-loving couple that made a big impact on the Cormorant community. Around 2000, the pair decided to start spending their winters in Texas, returning home to the farm every spring. They enjoyed traveling together, taking road trips to 48 of the U.S. states as well as trips to Mexico, Canada, Sweden and Norway.

In 2016, Duane passed away at the age of 86. Mary still calls their longtime farmhouse home. The farm has a lot of history in it, and that’s been a driving factor behind her interest in Cormorant history. Duane’s grandfather, Nels, was one of the area’s earliest pioneers, and remnants of that rugged era still linger around Erickson the property: an old ox harness hangs in the garage, as do a pair of handcrafted snowshoes gifted to Nels by a local Indian tribe. Just across the driveway from the house is a large hill that was once the site of an Indian battle. Mary says university researchers visited the property in 1920 to dig up bones and artifacts from that hill. They also visited her son’s property, where there are still visible Indian mounds. Looking around at her vast farmland, at the buildings she helped erect with her own hands and the fields she used to tend to with her young kids in tow, Mary says she’s proud of the life she and Duane built, and she’s proud to still be living independently today, able to care for herself and others. “What more could you ask for?” she says of the life she’s led. “It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed it all.” 

It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun and it’s been rewarding. It’s something I can do, and I enjoy it, and it’s helping.



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Physically distanced but deeply connected

For Trinity Lutheran Pastor Jillene Gallatin, it’s all about feeling — and sharing — God’s love and hope STORY & PHOTOS BY NATHAN BOWE For Women 360


andemic or no pandemic, Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes is all about reaching out to help others. The church’s focus on mission work — whether it be in Detroit Lakes, elsewhere in Minnesota, around the United States or the world — is one of the things that made Trinity such a good fit for senior pastor Jillene Gallatin when she took the job more than eight years ago. That mission work covers a lot of ground.

Being God’s hands and heart in the world

Mission work at Trinity stems from the belief that “we are loved and we have hope in one greater than ourselves,” Jillene says. “The unique part of Trinity is we equip people to share that — we are the disciples of Christ, called to grow in faith and action. Everything we do is measured by that: ‘Does it allow people to grow to be God’s hands and feet and head and heart in the world?’”

Continuing mission work, even in the time of COVID

The full staff of four full-timers and seven part-timers has been kept on at Trinity throughout the pandemic, but the church still had to pause a bit in its mission work “We give very regularly to the Becker County Food while it adjusted to the new safety realities of COVID-19. Pantry, the backpack (school supply) program, we put As they say, God finds a way: “This staff and together birthday boxes for kids in shelters, we give leadership at Trinity are phenomenal,” Jillene says. prayer shawls to residents at Ecumen and Oak Crossing, “Together, we have found creative ways to carry on and give quilts to our college students, and we send those missions.” them overseas,” Jillene says. “Every year, we have a For example, Trinity always holds a huge community mission trip for our youth, and a separate Habitat for coat drive in October, which involves about 200 people Humanity (home-building) trip for adults.” coming through the church doors on a Saturday to pick up Trinity takes young people to coats and outerwear for the winter. Fargo to serve in soup kitchens “We can’t do that this year,” Jillene and help with Second Harvest food says. Instead, the church is taking Pastor Jillene Gallatin at the alter at Trinity pantry work. donated coats and warm-weather Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes, which has been outfitted with new lights and other equipment “Everyone has gifts,” she says. gear and working with local schools to provide better online streaming of worship “We provide a lot of opportunities to make sure that kids who need it, services during the pandemic. for people to use their gifts.” get it for the cold-weather months. 32 | WOMEN 360

We’re realizing we’re going to be here (dealing with the pandemic) for a while, so how do we sustain this? It’s a reframing in our hearts and minds. — Jillene Gallatin

“So instead of 200 people coming in, a few of our members are distributing coats to Becker County schools,” she explains, adding that Trinity is offering the coats to public schools in Becker County, “but all children are eligible to receive outerwear if they need it.” Another example is Thanksgiving food baskets, containing all the fixings for a holiday meal. “The congregation used to come together and pack those,” she says. “This year will be different — we’re still working on all the details,” but the baskets will be packed and distributed in a COVID-safe manner. COVID or no COVID, she adds, the church’s mission remains: “How do we experience God’s love and hope, and share that?”

Finding a way to worship safely One of the most unique challenges has been finding a way to provide meaningful worship services virtually, Jillene says. The church has been providing outdoor services, including a low-frequency radio broadcast worship service to people listening to their car radios in the church parking lot. Limited activity has been taking place in the church, including baptisms and funerals, with physical distancing and a low number of participants. Other adjustments have been made to the education room for confirmation and Sunday School classes, and in the quilting room: Quilters now come in at different times throughout the week, instead of everyone crowding in on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It’s not been easy for the quilters, she says, since they’ve been used to those days and hours for years. But people adjust. “That’s their gift and that’s their mission,” she says of the quilters. The church is now set up to provide online streaming of its services, with a quality light and sound system at the altar. “We’re realizing we’re going to be here (dealing with the pandemic) for a while, so how do we sustain this?” Jillene says. “It’s a reframing in our hearts and minds. Winter is coming, and mobility will be an issue for some people.” This will let people stay in touch, she says of the online services: “It will remind people to stay physically distanced while still deeply connected.”

Church, family, and patriot dogs

Jillene and Peter with their sons, Van, right, and Grant, left. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Jillene, 46, is married to Peter Gallatin, the chaplain at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes. Their two sons are young adults: Van, 21, is a senior at Minnesota State University Moorhead, majoring in elementary education and coaching. Grant, 19, just graduated this spring from Detroit Lakes High School, and left for Marine Corps training in early October. “We’re incredibly proud of both of them,” Jillene says. “They, too, are very service-oriented, looking for ways to give back to the community and our nation.” WOMEN 360 | 33

People (are) giving their last $20. It’s so powerful to be part of that and help share that as school supplies, Christmas gifts and food for the Becker County Food Pantry. — Jillene Gallatin

They aren’t looking at a totally empty nest, since they foster dogs for the Patriot Assistance Dog program and currently have a 2-year-old mixed-breed named Scooby living at home with them. It’s the third Patriot Dog they’ve fostered. “I know they are going to somebody who needs them,” she says. “We’re just happy to do our part.” Jillene grew up in Isanti, Minn., and graduated from Cambridge High School in 1992 — then graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 1996 after studying communications and theology. She earned a master of divinity in 2001 from Luther Seminary in St. Paul. Her first calling took her to Ullensvang Lutheran Church in Thor, Iowa, where she was sole pastor and her husband served as youth director at St. Olaf’s Church in Fort Dodge. After three years, they moved to Elim Lutheran Church in Scandia, Minn., where she was associate pastor and he was youth director. “We went from Norwegian to Swedish (communities),” she recalls with a laugh. They moved to Detroit Lakes in the spring of 2012, when she was called to Trinity.

Inspired by good things Through the pandemic, revenue has continued to flow into the church because “people know we continue to serve others,” Jillene says. “Members of the congregation know we are continuing to serve entities in the community, like the food shelf and the United Way, that care for people.” People have been generous in a very difficult time. Jillene was moved to tears when speaking of a widow who donated the last of her few pennies. “We’re seeing that here,” she says. “People giving their last $20. It’s so powerful to be part of that and help share that as school supplies, Christmas gifts and food for the Becker County Food Pantry.” She is open-minded about ways to deal with COVID19 and other challenges as they arise. “When somebody has an idea, we try to make it happen,” she says. “Those aren’t just ideas — they’re God nudges.”  34 | WOMEN 360

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The caregivers’ caregiver As Director of Nursing at Essentia Health St. Mary’s, Melissa Peterson offers advice and a listening ear to hundreds of local nurses on the frontlines STORY BY MICHAEL ACHTERLING | For Women 360 SUBMITTED PHOTOS


elissa Peterson knew from the time she was just of nurses, from new college graduates to seasoned three years old that, one day, she wanted to be healthcare professionals, as they’ve grown and a nurse. progressed during a time when healthcare is under an That day arrived 23 years ago, when she took her first unprecedented spotlight. job in nursing, and she’s been in the field ever since. “Watching people take on roles that they would’ve Today, Melissa is the Regional Director of Nursing for never taken on before, or just being part of something Essentia Health St. Mary’s in Detroit Lakes. She oversees important and allowing them to do that, is pretty daily operations for nursing at Essentia amazing,” she says. Health and assists in the leadership and The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the direction of incident management for healthcare industry hard, and especially Melissa, second from left, with other nurses at Essentia Health pandemic planning. nurses, who are among those first and in Detroit Lakes during the She took the position last year, and has most frequently impacted. They must stay COVID-19 pandemic. since observed and assisted hundreds on top of all the extra safety precautions, WOMEN 360 | 35

Managing the uncertainty and fears of the hospital take on longer hours, and are on the frontlines whenever staff, as well as of her own family members, has been the pandemic gets delivered to their hospital’s door. another challenge. Melissa says she receives phone calls With the stakes higher than ever, nurses sometimes from extended family members who ask questions about need to vent, Melissa says, and her door is always open COVID-19, because they know she’s a nurse. for them. “Being that liaison, helping people “When you’re the one who wants to through (their fears), it’s a mental fix things all the time — and nurses tiredness more than a physical always want to fix things — sometimes tiredness,” she says. “Because you it’s hard, and you just need to sit back are helping so many people trying to and you need to listen,” she says. cope, and so many people trying to Actively listening and walking understand, and you are trying to do someone through their problems, that yourself. You’re being the strong she adds, can have a profound effect person at the same time.” on that person, because they know Recruitment of nurses has also someone is hearing them completely, suffered because of the pandemic, and that gives them some relief. she says. The hospital usually receives One of the most difficult parts of students from surrounding schools, but this pandemic, Melissa says, has been because of distance learning, student reassuring family members of COVIDnurses have become sparse. As a result, 19 patients — family members who Melissa during her first year as a staff staff nurses have been working longer were not able to visit their loved ones nurse in the 1990s. at the hospital bedside. hours to cover shifts, which adds to an already stressful situation. “I’ve had family members crying Melissa has personally felt the stress because they wanted to see their loved of the pandemic, which has at times manifested into ones, and that is hard,” she says. “It’s hard to coach them feelings of self-doubt. through that … We’ve got some video cameras and other “There were maybe some times (where I asked stuff like that, but it’s not the same as sitting at the myself), ‘Am I doing the right thing? Am I helping where bedside and holding their hand.”

Melissa, standing, third from left, in a group photo with other nurses at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes.

36 | WOMEN 360

I need to help? Am I leading where I need to lead?’” she recalls. “‘Am I the right person for the right job? Am I doing what I need to be doing? Am I being everything I need to be?’ You know, I think you need to kind of go through that a little bit in yourself.” Having the right people in your life, a good support system, and faith in the team members surrounding you makes a big difference, she says. She uses her 20 minute commute home to decompress, she says, but always worries about bringing the virus home to her family: “I know that if I’m following what I need to follow and trust the experts, I need to go with that.” Melissa started her career as a staff nurse and moved into a clinical coordinator role during her time at MeritCare Health Care System in Fargo. She then began working as a resident care manager at Fargo VA Health Care System, where she specialized in the subacute area of their transitional care unit. After a few years at the VA, Melissa returned to MeritCare and managed the medical respiratory unit for the next eight years until taking a director of nursing position at Eventide Senior Living Communities. She believes these last two stops in her career helped shape the nurse she is today and taught her valuable lessons about being a good leader. “It was great being a servant leader for the elderly and learning a lot, and giving back to them,” she says.

Melissa with her husband Gary and their three boys: Haidyn, Karsyn and Rylan.

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Eventually, she missed the daily challenges of acute care, and that’s when one of her friends, who worked for Essentia, told her she should apply for an opening. After thinking about the opportunity for a couple of months, Melissa says, she finally decided to apply. She was hired in April 2019 and became Essentia’s Regional Director of Nursing. She says it’s been a good transition: “To get back into acute care, you know, I was a little worried after eight years of being away from it. But they’ve treated me well, and they’ve helped me grow along the way.” Outside of work, Melissa is an active volunteer. She’s on the youth board at Salem Lutheran Church, and is in the University of Minnesota Extension’s Emerging Leaders program, which provides opportunities for people to develop their leadership potential as well as a structure to help regional leaders address rural issues. In addition, she’s on the executive board at Tastefully Simple, for which she’s a platinum team member. Born in 1971 in Thief River Falls, Minn., Melissa graduated from Century High School in Bismarck, N.D. and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Minnesota State University in Moorhead. She got her master’s degree in nursing administration from the University of Mary in Bismarck. She is married to her husband, Gary, and they have three boys: Haidyn, 18, Karsyn, 15, and Rylan, 11. 

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