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Chamber secretary to leave 24-year 'summer job'

It's been almost 25 years since Huron, S.D. native Jan Campbell and her husband, Wayne, made the move from their mutual hometown to Detroit Lakes in January 1981.

For most of that time, Jan has worked as a receptionist and secretary for the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce, sitting beside her colleague, Jean Erickson -- who started work at the Chamber just six months before she did, and currently serves as office manager.

No one was more thrilled than Jan and Jean when the Chamber finally made the move from the small brown buil-ding at the corner of Highway 10 and Washington Avenue to its new home, adjacent to the Becker Coun-ty Museum on Summit Avenue.

"I didn't miss it at all," Jan said of the Chamber's old office space. Even when the old building was demolished earlier this fall, Jan said, she watched the process without tears. The reason, she admits, is that the new digs were long overdue -- the Chamber had outgrown its allotted space, and conditions in the old offices were cramped at best.

"The new offices have been a little piece of heaven, so roomy and bright," she said. "And everything's on one floor -- that really is the best. Jean and I have always wondered how many boxes of brochures we've had to lug up and down those steps (at the old offices) through the years. We just know it's a lot."

And then, of course, there's the location. The old offices were sandwiched in between the highway and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks, which meant the noise from the passing trains and semis was often deafening, Jan says.

"There were times when you couldn't hear anything else," she said. "If we had the windows open, you can't imagine how loud it was."

Now, of course, the work environment is much nicer -- in fact, so much so that she briefly reconsidered her retirement plans. But only briefly.

With her 62nd birthday approaching, Jan feels she's ready for a change. "I just decided it was a good time (to retire)," she said, adding with a laugh, "My cat's getting older."

Giving her cat, Min-dy, a little extra TLC is first on Jan's agenda when she finally calls it quits at the end of the month.

"That first week, I'm just going to hold my cat for a while," she said. "Then I have drawers and closets that have been calling my name for a long time."

After that, she and Wayne hope to do some traveling. In addition to their annual January trip to visit Jan's sister in Florida, the Campbells hope to see Wayne's sister, Florance, in New Orleans.

Florance briefly made her home with the Campbells in Detroit Lakes last year, when her home was devastated by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

After about six weeks, however, she was ready to go home, and lived in a FEMA trailer hooked up to her sewer, water and electricity service while contractors rebuilt the home that she shares with her daughter. They just moved back into their rebuilt home about a month ago, Jan said, and she and Wayne would like to get a look at the results for themselves.

Of course, Jan and Wayne also hope to spend some more time with their two sons, Roy and Cory, who are now in their 30s and living on their own. Roy and his wife Val live in Savage, Minn., while Cory is single and lives in Grand Forks.

But the Campbells' travel won't be open-ended: Wayne has no immediate plans to retire from his work as a salesman for Stenerson's Lumber in Detroit Lakes.

For her part, Jan said, she has not yet reached a decision on what she will do with her time once she bids the Chamber goodbye. But she does have at least one goal -- "to be the tourist I've helped other people to be over the years. I'm finally going to have the time to look around and enjoy what we have to offer right here in Detroit Lakes."

Though she and Wayne had both lived most of their lives in and around Huron before making the move to DL in 1981, Jan said it was a case of love at first sight.

"It was the first move for both of us -- our boys were in second and seventh grade -- and it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us," she said. "We've absolutely loved it here. We love the trees, and the lakes -- and we happened to move into a unique neighborhood that became like an instant family."

Though Wayne's work as a regional salesman for Jordan Millworks required him to go out on the road just two weeks after they'd moved to DL, Jan said she "never really felt homesick," because of the fact that her neighbors embraced the family and made them feel at home, right from the start.

Even when she would go downtown to do a little shopping, Jan said, the sales people were always friendly and warm. In fact, whenever she was feeling a little lonely, she would often stop in at one of those stores just to say hello. "They just made me feel so welcome," she said.

Jan said she was first brought in to work for the Chamber as summer help only. From there, her position evolved to permanent, part-time one, and finally full-time.

"It's the longest summer job I ever had," she joked. When asked what she liked about the work, Jan said simply, "What didn't I like? I've only had three jobs in my life, really, and I've been fortunate in that I've always loved the people I worked with. I'm going to miss Jean terribly. All those years (at the old offices), we sat side by side -- how lucky was I that she became what I consider one of my very best friends."

Jan will officially say goodbye to her career at the Chamber on Dec. 31. To celebrate, the staff has planned an open house for Wednesday, Dec. 13, 3-6 p.m. in the Chamber offices. The public is invited.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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