PERHAM, Minn. — The work of the Perham, Minnesota's local service clubs can be seen all over town.

From the "Welcome to Perham" sign put up by the Perham Rotary, the Women of Focus' annual Christmas Bazaar, or the stamp of the Lions Club on N.P. Park downtown.

Over the years, about half of Perham’s service clubs have fallen into a state of inactivity and become lost in the wash of time, now existing simply as memories in the community’s mind. While both the Perham Rotary and Women of Focus are still holding strong in their service work, the Perham Lions and Jaycees have reached an inactive status.

“There were two Lions Clubs and Jaycees,” said Dennis Happel, a lawyer who has been a Perham Rotarian for about 24 years.

“They were all three very active. It was a big loss.”

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Perham Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dan Schroeder believes that the Perham Jaycees have not been operational for the past two years.

Steve Richter, owner of Richter’s Men's Wear downtown and a former president of the Perham Jaycees, said while he does not know about the activities of the service club in recent years, the club was at the top of its game when he was involved in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The Minnesota Jaycees could not be reached for comment on the Perham Chapter.

Schroeder said the Jaycees were involved in the holiday parade of lights for one year in 2018 after the Lions Club was no longer involved with the event. The event is now organized by United Community Bank, which decided to cancel the event this year to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Schroeder said the Perham Lions Clubs are also no longer operational. He said the last leader of the Perham Lions Club was Nicole Naseth. Neither Naseth nor Lions International could not be reached for comment.

Happel said the Bridge Food Pantry was one of the big projects sponsored by the Perham Lions.

The Bridge Food Pantry's Executive Director John Leikness said the Lions finished building the pantry's current building in 1995. After that, they would donate funds earmarked to pay the utilities for the building that they shared, in the Pantry's annual March funding raising campaign and would hold food drives for the Pantry until they went inactive in 2018.

"I would look at it more of an ongoing legacy," Leikness said. "The fact that they built the building and that they agreed to let us take over their half. I think of them all the time. Because without allowing us to take over the whole building we would have had to move somewhere else because of the space needs."

"I can't thank them enough for doing what they did to get us over here and allowing s to get the space that we needed," Leikness said.

Active clubs

Perham’s Rotary club has been established and active for more than 50 years, said Mitch Anderson, Rotary’s current president and superintendent of Perham-Dent Public Schools. “It’s evolved over time,” he said.

Anderson said Perham’s Rotoray Chapter has 60 to 75 business and community leaders involved in their projects and is currently gaining members despite the pandemic.

Dennis Happel
Dennis Happel

Happel said the Rotary club sponsors several projects and organizations such as scholarships, Boy Scouts, and the dog park to name a few.

“We take it as our role to help out with whatever’s good for Perham,” Anderson said.

Perham Women of Focus is another active service club.

“We are a small group of women that work together to do one large fundraiser a year,” said Katie Hennagir, owner of Bay Window Quilt Shop and Women of Focus member. “Which is usually the Christmas Plus Bazaar on the first Saturday of November. This year that had to be canceled because of COVID.”

Marie Nitke/FOCUS
Shoppers came to peruse the goods of more than 100 vendors at the annual Perham Women of Focus Christmas Plus Bazaar.
Marie Nitke/FOCUS Shoppers came to peruse the goods of more than 100 vendors at the annual Perham Women of Focus Christmas Plus Bazaar.

Hennagir said the bazaar is about 40 years old and the proceeds are donated through the community. “We generally always donate to the eighth-grade trip, We sponsor the fireworks in the summer, we’re part of Turtle Pest, and we do scholarships for graduating seniors. These are just some of them,” she said.

Hennagir said in a normal year, the bazaar raises about $10,000 for their causes.

“I think we fill a gap for some of those events — especially like the fireworks — where we can offer some funds to help keep those things going.”

While not all of Perham’s service clubs have lived to see the present day all of the clubs that have been in Perham have worked on projects that have benefited the town.

“I think Perham’s unique, we’ve got big business, but yet a small-town feel,” Anderson said.”It’s always had the attitude of we’re going to get things done and be on the cutting edge of everything. If somebody has an idea and we believe in it we find a way to get it down.”