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Judy Peterson gets grand sendoff at retirement party

Judy Peterson, left, shares some laughs and tears with former neighbors Paul and Donna Bursik of Detroit Lakes at Peterson's retirement party at Emmanuel Nursing Home Thursday afternoon. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

The tears and stories flowed Thursday afternoon during a retirement open house for Becker County Coordinator on Aging Judy Peterson. She is leaving the position at the end of the year.

"Everyone has wanted a Judy in their county. She is wonderful," Emmanuel's Executive Director Janet Green said. "She has served the seniors with honor, dignity and hard work."

While working for Multi-County Nursing before coming on as senior coordinator, Peterson said she was assigned to a client, Belle Heart, of Callaway. Heart didn't have any family or support system, so it was Peterson who helped her with services.

She had to have some proof of identification though, and with no birth certificate or driver's license, Heart's only other option was a baptismal certificate -- which was buried in the attic.

Peterson dug for quite some time and finally found it. Later, soon after she changed jobs to the coordinator on aging, Heart had moved out and asked a neighbor to bring Peterson a gift she thought would be perfect for Peterson -- a large, pink, ceramic flamingo.

Peterson has had the flamingo in her office for the 12 years she's been coordinator.

It was during that trip to the attic that Peterson said she knew she was meant to help seniors.

Carolyn Engebretson, who worked with Peterson on the Council on Aging, said she opened her calendar one day and found what described Peterson.

"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care -- that's Judy," she said.

She also advised Peterson to start tracking her volunteer hours so someone can nominate her for Outstanding Senior, a program that Peterson herself also coordinated.

Peterson's partners include Area Agency on Aging, Emmanuel Community, St. Mary's Innovis Health, United Way, Becker County, Morning and Noon Rotary, Diamond Willow and Mahube Community Council.

"So outstanding, the partners -- you've gone on this journey with me," Peterson told a roomful of people at Emmanuel.

"We've come together to say it's absolutely necessary," Green said of the position.

Linda Detterick, who served with Peterson on the Becker County Caregivers Support Group, said she's going to miss her friend's laugh. She even asked that Green record Peterson's laugh and have it on a phone line so she could call when she needed to hear it.

Dr. Bill Henke gave a "heartfelt thanks" for Peterson's work, and said she has raised the bar of community service very high.

"Judy's a real expert, a real advocate for the seniors," agreed Area Agency on Aging Director Mark Tysver. "She's about as knowledgeable as they come."

Mahube Community Council will be taking over the coordinating, with Karen Lenius heading it.

Mahube Executive Director Leah Pigatti said she doesn't remember the first time she met Peterson, but she does remember what she thought.

"I said wow. Wow, we are so lucky to have a lady like this in our community," she said.

"I don't know that we will replace you," but Mahube will work hard to help the seniors as Peterson did, she added.

Lenius, who has worked with seniors the last couple years with the RSVP program, said there will likely be bumps along the way, but one step at a time, "we'll do the best we can."

Peterson will be back with Emmanuel on a part-time basis after she and her husband, Lynn, who is also retiring at the end of the year, take a vacation to Portland and British Columbia. She doesn't want to give up working with the seniors.

"Last, most of all, I want to thank you, seniors. You've made me a better person," she said through tears.