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Living with 'Perham purpose'

Perham resident Harriet Mattfeld believes in her community, and she's not afraid to show it.

Harriet Mattfeld can remember when the view from downtown Perham directed the eye to a small chicken hatchery.

The chickens are long gone now, and their home certainly is, too. What sits in its place serves as a symbol of economic prosperity in the area, and the story of a family that created somewhat of an empire in the 'small town that could.'

When Mattfeld now looks out at that very same spot, she sees the infamous Tuffy's bridge and a Main Street that continues to experience a little hustle and bustle.

Not many who have lived in small towns through the decades can say their communities are more prosperous now than ever. But Mattfeld can -- and she hasn't exactly been a silent observer throughout the course of the community's success. It's quite the contrary.

Mattfeld, a member of the city council, the Perham Health Board of Directors, the Lions Club and president of the American Legion Auxiliary, is known as someone who doesn't back down from the issues. It's also known that her dedication and commitment aren't driven by anything other than a passion for the community.

"I love this town, it's one of the best," she said.

And she really means it.

Growing up in Montana, Mattfeld hadn't a clue what a "Perham" was. But that all changed when she met her husband, a Perham native who was in Montana to work the fields.

After marrying at 16-years-old, Mattfeld waited for six months as her husband was stationed in the service. She then moved out to California to be with him, before making the 1954 move to Perham.

In 1966, Mattfeld began working at the Perham Enterprise Bulletin, where she stayed for nearly 32 years.

"I saw a lot of changes over the years," she said.

When she began at the newspaper, the hot type was in use, where molten lead was cast into letters and lines of type. She can still recall the proofing process, which required great precision (and balance) when transporting pages from one place to another.

"I learned to read upside down and backwards," she said.

To this day, she still has a difficult time taking her editing cap off when reading the paper or a city council agenda.

While perfecting her grammar skills, Mattfeld also became quite up-to-date on the issues in the community. Even after retiring from the paper, she continued to stay active.

For two years, she worked at the Chamber of Commerce and also spent time helping out at the museum.

"I cannot sit around doing nothing," she said.

That's evident by her third term on the city council, where she's become known as someone who stands firm on the issues - and someone who truly cares.

Over the years, she said one of the biggest issues she's dealt with has been the relocation of the liquor store from the downtown area to its current location near Highway 10.

While Mattfeld now considers the move a success, she wasn't too sure at the time. She shared the same concern with many others who were promoting the maintenance of a thriving downtown area.

While the liquor store did move away, Mattfeld confirms that downtown is alive and well today. That, she says, is due to the countless people in the community who work to defy the odds.

"The business people on Main Street work together," she said.

Mattfeld also tips her hat to the Nelson family, who she says have shown the community the commitment it needs to build from.

Aside from being a community activist, Mattfeld is also a fighter on the health front. She's survived cancer four times with her 'battle' mentality.

"I can't sit down and give up," she said.

Every year, she can be seen at the East Otter Tail Relay for Life, where she stands out as a pretty tough woman.

Even in the midst of her health struggles, Mattfeld said there's no letting up on her community commitments. She even still has her hand at the paper, where she puts together a 'Looking Back' column, highlighting the important history in the New York Mills and Perham communities.

This is the first in a monthly series highlighting the extraordinary people who bring life to East Otter Tail County communities.