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Paul Sukke remembered as community activist, family man

DETROIT LAKES -- It's been just a little over 20 years since Paul and Madalyn Sukke moved to Detroit Lakes from Willmar, Minn., in 1987.

But in those 20 years, Paul Sukke became an integral part of the community. Through the years, Sukke -- who passed away Jan. 19 at age 61 -- quietly made his presence felt in a wide variety of service organizations, from the Jaycees to the Chamber of Commerce to Rotary to the West Central Initiative Fund.

"Paul was really active in the Jaycees, and Rotary," said longtime friend Mark Hagen. "The Jaycees' motto is, 'Service to humanity is the best work of life,' and the Rotary's motto is, 'Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy'... Paul epitomized both of those sayings."

A short list of his achievements in Detroit Lakes includes chairing the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener committee when DL hosted the event in 2003; helping to start up the Morning Rotary Club (for which he was named Rotarian of the year in 1989); serving as chairman of the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce board of directors (1995-96); and serving as chairman of the fund raising committee for the building of the new Chamber offices in 2006.

"He was just a person who believed if we wanted a better community, we had to step up and do something about it," Hagen said.

"People had a hard time saying no to the guy," recalled Chamber President Dave Hochhalter. "I didn't ever feel he was overbearing or forceful, but he knew how to twist your arm just enough."

Sukke was chairman of the Chamber board when Hochhalter was hired as president.

"The one question I remember him asking me (in the interview) was, 'I hope you have a sense of humor,'" Hochhalter recalled. "He was great to work with, very patient, and he listened well. He'd always seem to figure out a way to get things done. It didn't ever seem that any job was too big."

"He really was the go-to guy if you needed something done," Hagen added.

Yet his family was always at the center of it all, Hochhalter added.

"He really had a good balance -- he was excellent in his career, active in his community, and his family was very important to him," Hagen said.

A native of Benson, Minn., Sukke attended Concordia College in Moorhead, earning a bachelor's degree in economics before joining the U.S. Navy in 1968.

He served as a naval aviator, flying P-3 Orions in the Far East during the Viet Nam War.

In 1974, Paul and Madalyn moved to Alexandria, where Paul was an insurance agent for First Bank Systems. In 1977, they moved to Willmar to establish an insurance agency with First Bank Willmar.

Sukke was active with the Willmar Jaycees, earning the Distinguished Service Award. He was also active with the Willmar Chamber Of Commerce and Vinje Lutheran Church. In 1982, he organized and served as charter president of the Willmar Sartoma Club.

"He was very involved in every community he lived in," Hochhalter noted.

After moving to Detroit Lakes in 1987, Sukke also served as a member and past chairman of the West Central Initiative Fund board. An active member of the congregation at First Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes, he served as its president from 1989-90.

Besides Madalyn, his wife of 40 years, Sukke leaves behind a son, Erik, daughter, Allison, and mother, Angeline.

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.

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