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Frienda and Neighbors: Runner-up for state outstanding senior from Lake Park

Her last name may be Harsh, but it's certainly not indicative of her true nature.

Whether it's visiting with residents of Sunnyside Care Center as a volunteer for the Minnesota Ombudsman program, sewing quilts and school bags for charity or donating fresh fruits and vegetables to elderly community members who can no longer grow their own, Dorothy Harsh is a true friend in need to the residents of Lake Park and the surrounding area.

"Her care, kindness and thoughtfulness for the people in the community show in the many deeds she quietly does for others," says Marion Jacobson, a fellow volunteer and friend of over 20 years.

Harsh was honored by Becker County this past summer as one of its 2007 Outstanding Senior Citizens, along with Howard Westlie. And while competition for the county honor was not high -- Harsh's nomination was unopposed -- the same could not be said when she traveled to St. Paul on Aug. 30 for the Minnesota Outstanding Seniors awards program.

Harsh was one of well over 100 nominees for the state honor, and while she did not win it -- that honor went to George Rossbach of St. Paul and Everael O'Brien of Hibbing -- she was named as a first-runners-up (along with Hubbard County's Phil Busch, of Akeley).

Was she surprised? "Very," Harsh says. "Marion always thought I'd get it, but she's an optimist."

(Jacobson was also the 2005 recipient of the Minnesota Outstanding Senior Citizen award.)

Harsh may have been surprised, but anyone who knows how much she does for her community, and indeed, all of Becker County, wouldn't bat an eye at the thought. In all, Harsh has logged over 13,000 hours of volunteer service, according to Jacobson (who nominated her for the honor).

Her volunteer efforts have included teaching the 55-Alive Safety Driving Program for AARP; serving as a member and past president of the Lake Park American Legion Auxiliary; knitting caps for the "Save the Children" international charity project; and sewing quilts and toiletry bags or Lakes Crisis & Resource Center in Detroit Lakes as well as quilts and school bags for Lutheran World Relief.

An avid gardener, Harsh is a founding member of the Lake Park Garden Club, where she has held office as treasurer, vice president and president as well as serving on the publicity and Pumpkin Festival committees, chairing the Farmer's Market at Pumpkin Fest and the club's annual plant sale. She also helped to plant and landscape the Corner Garden on Highway 10 at the entrance to Lake Park, and helped start the club's Yard of the Month award as well as continuing to serve as a judge for the honor, given monthly from June through September of every year.

Harsh has also been a member and elected officer of the District 11 Minnesota Horticultural Society, where she has served as treasurer, vice president and president as well as serving as a certified judge at flower shows and helping with publicity. She also attends state meetings of the Minnesota Horticultural Society as a District 11 representative.

A retired music and art teacher (husband Don is a retired math teacher and former Lake Park principal), Harsh continues to volunteer at Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School, collecting soup can labels and participating in its reading program.

Harsh assists her husband Don -- a longtime member of the Cormorant Lions Club -- with collecting aluminum cans at area recycling sheds (with permission), bars and schools, selling them at MinnKota Recycling and giving the proceeds to the Lions Club.

Since starting the program, they have raised well over $30,000 for Lions Club projects.

She and her husband also volunteer at the Lake Park Nutrition Site, helping with cleanup, and with the Becker County NAPS program, delivering 40-pound boxes of food from Detroit Lakes (the NAPS distribution site) to low income Osage-area residents who otherwise wouldn't be able to receive their monthly food supply.

She also volunteers with the local branch of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), where she currently serves as vice president and historian. Some of her other volunteer duties include serving as a volunteer with the Minnesota Ombudsman Program, which involves both visiting with residents of Sunnyside Care Center for six hours a month, being aware of their needs and reporting problems to the state Ombudsman for action. She must also undergo about 48 hours of training a year as a volunteer for the program.

When asked what motivates her to spend so many hours on volunteer work, Harsh says simply, "I like doing things for people."

A Moorhead native, Dorothy is the daughter of former Concordia College business manager and instructor, Hans Dale. She graduated from Concordia in 1950, with a bachelor's degree in art and music.

After teaching in Rushford and Alexandria, Minn., for a couple of years, she met and married Don Harsh, a fellow teacher. They had three children together: David, Diane and Dale.

Through the years, they lived and worked in Detroit Lakes; Delano, Calif.; Lake Park; and Robbinsdale, Minn. They also operated a campground on Big Cormorant Lake for several years; the property has since become Tracy's RV and North Shore Park (a trailer park).

After retiring from Robbinsdale in 1978 and moving back to Lake Park full-time, the Harshes lived in a trailer park for a while. Then, Don happened to spot a "for sale" sign on the Big Cormorant Lake property that would become their home. They purchased the property in 1983, and built their current home.

The house actually has some unique structure; it is built into the hillside facing the lake, and there is a tunnel from the main house going into the split-level workshop and garage.

The home is surrounded by beautiful gardens and trees -- including an apple orchard -- where Dorothy enjoys tending to her flowers, fruits and vegetables.

And Dorothy has continued to develop her interest in art and music as well. She and Don both sing with the Lake Park Area Community Choir, and recently, Harsh completed a project for Strandvik Lutheran Church that, according to Jacobson, "went way beyond what is expected of church membership."

Harsh undertook a two-year project to install new stained glass windows for the church, where she and her husband are long-time members. According to Jacobson, she designed, purchased and cut the glass, then assembled the eight windows herself -- at no cost to the church other than the glass itself.

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