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Otte works to help homeless, hungry

Marcia Otte recently celebrated 25 years of service with the local chapter of the Salvation Army. She has volunteered with the organization since about a year after coming to work at Mahube Community Council in January of 1988. A Mandan, N.D., native, Otte moved to Detroit Lakes that same year, and became Mahube’s family development director, serving the homeless and families in need. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

When Marcia Otte first started working at Mahube Community Council’s Detroit Lakes office back in 1988, she had an annual operating budget of $10,000, and her office consisted of one staff person — herself.

“For the first 15 years, I was all by myself in this department,” Marcia said.

Now, as family development director for Mahube-Otwa Community Action, she oversees a staff of 13 and an annual budget of $4 million. And despite a multitude of challenges in her personal life, she’s continued to work full-time at Mahube for the past 26 years — not to mention volunteering for 25 of those years with the local Salvation Army chapter.

“I’m pretty proud of that,” she says.

Those personal challenges came to a head quite early in Marcia’s career with Mahube, when her son Shawn, at 14 months of age, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis a mere two weeks after she had started her new job.

“He got sick on a Sunday night, and by Tuesday, he was gone,” she said sadly. “The people here at Mahube were so supportive.”

Her firstborn son Shane, meanwhile, had been diagnosed with congenital heart disease when he was 4 years old, while Otte was working as a research assistant at North Dakota State University in Fargo. At that time, his doctors informed the family that it was unlikely Shane would survive to see his fifth birthday.

“He’s 28 now,” Marcia said proudly. “Shane’s a remarkable young man.”

But in his formative years, Shane faced three open heart surgeries, at ages 8, 12 and 18.

“The surgery that saved his life when he was 8 years old wasn’t available when he was 4,” Marcia said.

Yet despite the health challenges that prevented the young man from participating in school sports, Shane managed to join the National Honor Society, become an Eagle Scout, and graduate with a degree in university studies from Minnesota State University Moorhead.

His accomplishments were based on one basic premise, to “concentrate on what you can do, not the things you can’t do,” Marcia said. “I’m very proud of him.”

Marcia’s own health took a decided downturn in 1998 as well. After being diagnosed with Krohn’s disease at age 22, in 1974, she had struggled with its oft-debilitating effects through most of her adult life. But in 1998, the disease had progressed to the point where her colon had to be removed entirely.

“I had an ileostomy,” she said.

All of these challenges caused sufficient stress on her home life that Marcia’s marriage ended in divorce. In 2002, she met and married her second husband, Dave Otte, whom she says she “should have been married to all along.”

“He liked me for who I was, which was pretty cool,” she added.

And Marcia remains passionate about what she does, both in her professional career at Mahube and in her volunteer work with the Salvation Army.

At Mahube, Marcia works with the homeless and hungry, helping to feed them and put a roof over their heads.

“My job is seeing that people who are on the street or homeless have a safe place to stay at night,” she said. “We’re not always thanked for what we do, and we can’t always save everyone from the situations they find themselves in… so we have to refer them to a place that can.”

Her department encompasses Mahube’s emergency assistance, housing and family development programs. She is also the manager of West River Townhomes, a 12-unit facility that provides permanent supportive housing for people who were previously homeless.

Though she “loves the enthusiasm” of her staff at Mahube, and their “save the world mentality,” Marcia nevertheless has learned through her many years with Mahube that “you just can’t save everybody.”

“I tell them that they can’t take it too much to heart,” she said. “You just can’t solve all the problems that are out there.”

But when they do manage to “save” someone, the feeling is indescribable.

Marcia also derives considerable satisfaction from her work with the Salvation Army, where she serves as secretary of the local chapter and helps with the annual “Red Kettle” holiday fund drive.

Otte has also contributed her time and talents to the Salvation Army’s Back to School project, which purchases, collects and distributes school supplies to approximately 100 children each fall at local elementary schools.

“And at Christmas time, we have our Giving Tree project,” she added. It’s a program that has grown to provide Christmas gifts for over 400 children in Becker County every holiday season.

When her then-14 year old son Shane asked her once why they had to be the ones to drive all over town collecting the money from the kettles, Marcia told him that because they couldn’t afford to contribute financially (she was a single mother at that time), she felt they should contribute their time instead.

“I see the good work the Salvation Army does, and I’ve seen firsthand where the money goes,” she says. “It’s an honor to work with them.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter @VickiLGerdes.

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