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Former longtime Bemidji mayor Peterson dies

Doug Peterson

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Doug Peterson, former longtime mayor of Bemidji, died Tuesday morning at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. He was 75.

Peterson was mayor from 1975 through 2000, a period when the west side of Bemidji was developed from plain forest into a wide swath of retail stores and restaurants.

"He led Bemidji through many ups and downs, and his long tenure will be remembered as a positive era in Bemidji's growth," said current Mayor Rita Albrecht.

Bruce Atwater, who served on the city council during Peterson's tenure as mayor, also offered praise.

"He was a very active mayor, knew what was going on in town and was always interested in what we could do to make Bemidji a better place to live," Atwater said.

Also among a long list of accomplishments as mayor were Peterson's work to build a city wastewater treatment plant, housing redevelopment and his involvement in the "First City on the Mississippi" tourism campaign.

"My father told me when I was first elected mayor, 'You can lead this community to either grow or die. And there's no in-between,'" Peterson told Minnesota Public Radio in 2001. "You don't stand still forever … and I chose to try to make it grow."

Peterson forged a connection between Bemidji and New Orleans, signing a proclamation declaring the two Mississippi River towns as "sister cities" with then-New Orleans mayor Ernest Morial in 1986.

After his term ended, Peterson was hired by developer John Zacher as a project manager for developing property on Lake Bemidji's south shore, which Zacher later sold to the city so it  could locate the Sanford Center there.

In addition to his role as mayor, Peterson served his community as a volunteer firefighter and a member of the city council. He held a variety of private sector jobs, including as a salesman for Little Falls Granite Works for three decades and as co-owner of several small businesses all named for his wife Sandy, who died in 2010.

His family, though, will remember him as a loving father and husband. His son Daniel said despite his tireless work for the city "he still managed to be a good dad that will be sorely missed."

His current wife, Darlene, said the couple married despite the possibility that Doug, who was battling cancer, may not have much time left to live.

"We just took a leap of faith," she said. "We had the best two years of our lives."

She recalled the pair's first date, where Doug brought her a small bouquet of flowers.

"He looked like he was about 16," she said with a laugh. "He was so sweet."

Funeral services will be 1 p.m. Monday at the United Methodist Church in Bemidji. Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m., Sunday at the Cease Family Funeral Home in Bemidji and one hour prior to the service at the church.