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Becker County Recorder Darlene Maneval in her office at the courthouse. She will retire at the end of the year, after serving with the recorder's Office since 1981. DL NEWSPAPERS/Nathan Bowe

Speak softly, carry a big book: County Recorder Darlene Maneval to retire at end of year

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

She may come off as mild-mannered and soft-spoken, but Becker County Recorder Darlene Maneval is passionate about keeping good local service at the courthouse.

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And Maneval, who is retiring at the end of this year, also feels strongly about keeping elective county positions like the recorder, and the auditor-treasurer, elective, and not appointed by the county board.

Good local service is important to Maneval. She has been known to drive into Detroit Lakes in a blizzard, on a Sunday, to help a stranded travelor in Florida who needed a birth certificate.

But that good service provided by the Recorder’s Office to farmers and smaller banks (in the form of lien searches on personal property via the Uniform Commercial Code) is threatened by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who Maneval says has arbitrarily decided to cut county recorders out of the system and require small banks and farmers to go online for state services.

That will cost Becker County about $9,000 a year in lost fees, but more importantly, will make life difficult for people who should be able to go to the courthouse for help as they have always done, she says.

“The ones that will be really hurt by this are small local banks and farmers,” who often need the lien checks on equipment that serves as collateral prior to planting and harvesting.

“They can get it here and take it to the bank the same day,” she said.

The state plans to cut counties out of the system as of Dec. 1.

Maneval and other county recorders plan to fight it.

When it comes to elected versus appointed county department heads, it’s an easy decision to Maneval.

It’s a matter of checks and balances, she believes, and there are times elected officials like the recorder and auditor-treasurer have to make difficult stands.

Roots run deep

Maneval has more than 30 years under her belt at the Recorder’s Office, where she was first hired in 1981.

Back then, Eleanor Miller ran the Recorder’s Office, and hired Maneval as a fill-in for her deputy, who went on maternity leave.

“I must have impressed her, because I’m still here,” Maneval joked.

Miller, who went by E.T. Miller, perhaps to downplay her gender, started in the Recorder’s Office in the 1930s and became county recorder in 1955, when her predecessor, Oscar P. Morken, died in office. Miller also died while in office.

Thankfully, Maneval’s predecessor, Marlene Martinson, broke that unhappy trend when she retired 12 years ago.

And Maneval, who replaced her, is now 62 and looking forward to retiring young enough to enjoy herself.

She’ll join her husband, Steven, who retired 18 months ago from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Detroit Lakes, where he was head of maintenance and handled prescribed burns and wetland restoration.

One hobby she plans to pursue in her new-found spare time is genealogical research.

“I love it. It’s my favorite part of the job – genealogy research,” she said. To that end, she plans to volunteer at the County Historical Society.

From big books to digital

The Recorder’s Office  has always been known for its big books of documents, but like everywhere else, it has gone digital over the last 10 years or so.

The basic elements of the job haven’t changed, though: “Foremost, we have all land records, abstracts and torrens (registered land thorough the court system),” dating back to 1870 and 1871 when the county first started with handwritten deeds.

The recorder’s office also handles vital statistics – birth, death and marriage certificates. But not divorces. The court administration office handles those.

The five-person office also handles passports and Uniform Commercial Code work, which brought in $165,000 over the past 10 years.

Playing catch-up

And the office has been busy digitalizing past records. “We now have records complete to 1978,” she said.  Deeds and mortgages are digitalized back to 1970, but the associated documents are not yet finished.

In fact, all documents back to 1952 have been digitalized. “The image is there with a document number, and we’re now seeking bids to get the index and associated information completed,” she said.

The money for digitalization comes from a $10-per-document fee, and several companies specialize in the work, contracted via the bidding process.

But Maneval has been saving money by having her and her staff do the work in their spare time.

“In the frugal line, I thought that would be good,” she said with a laugh. “But now we’re short-staffed and we don’t have time … I’ve got 46,607 documents to be indexed – I don’t think I can do 46,606 documents in six months.”

She’ll bid the work out, and make a decision based on “who has a good reputation and a good price.”

In all, there are 617,399 documents in the Recorder’s Office, and roughly half have been digitalized so far.

Full primary slate

When it comes to her replacement, there will be a crowded primary election ballot, with names that include Maneval’s chief deputy (Karen Wenner), her vital statistics administrator (Sandee Listul), the head of the county planning and zoning department (Patricia Swenson), and the chief deputy in the Hubbard County Recorder’s Office (Darryl Hensel), who lives in Becker County.

“There are four people running for my office and I fully endorse all four of them,” Maneval said. “Each and every one could do a good job.” She has full confidence in the voters of Becker County to make the right choice.

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