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Blackduck mayor relishes small town life

When her day job as a banker is done, Blackduck Mayor Megan Gustafson walks across the street to City Hall to check her messages. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

By Molly Miron, Special to the Pioneer

Occasionally, write-in candidates win elections. But they usually have to mount strong campaigns to succeed.

The opposite is true of Megan Gustafson, Blackduck’s first female mayor.

“We only had one guy (Cory Veasey, a city councilman) running,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson, 33 and single, is president of the Blackduck Chamber of Commerce, a director on the Blackduck Development Corporation and known for her volunteerism with Meals on Wheels and blood donation. She said community members approached her two weeks before the Nov. 6 election and asked if she would be a write-in candidate for mayor.

“It wasn’t my idea – it was the community,” she said. “I was honored that they asked me.”

She agreed to run, but because she was in the midst of changing careers from full-time insurance sales to personal banker with Wells Fargo, she had no time to knock on doors or set up yard signs. No problem: her backers did the legwork for her and she won by a narrow margin.

“I think I won by nine votes. We had to have a recount,” Gustafson recalled. “The council is very excited, and the community, too. I go to the grocery store and they yell, ‘The mayor is here!’”

Gustafson grew up in Bigfork. Her mother is a third-grade teacher, her stepfather owns an auto sales business, her father is a truck driver and her sister owns a bar in Effie. She attended St. Cloud State University and graduated from Bemidji State University with a degree in applied psychology. During her tenure at BSU, she also worked in the International Programs Office. That experience opened opportunities for her.

She took a position at American InterContinental University in Atlanta, Ga., recruiting international students. Later she was promoted to ACU’s Chicago office to arrange study abroad for U.S. students. That job gave her chances to travel.

“I went to London for work and then vacationed in Paris,” Gustafson said.

Later she moved to South Padre Island, Texas, doing the same work from home. She said she missed her family and home country of northern Minnesota, so four years ago when the recession meant fewer students could afford to study abroad, she earned her insurance license and moved to Blackduck.

“I absolutely love it,” Gustafson said. “The community is great. They love their town. I just feel fortunate that I live here.”

An opportunity opened up at Wells Fargo Bank in the Bemidji office. By December, she moved into the Blackduck Wells Fargo office as a personal banker.

After living in big cities, Gustafson said she was amazed and gratified by the helpfulness of Blackduck folks. For example, she had her car in for work after she struck a deer. Blackduck Collision fixed the damage and arranged a rental car for her. Another time, she bought a gift for a friend from Northwoods Lumber. Because she was out of town at the time, a store employee delivered the gift to her friend. And after a recent snow, she came home from a vacation and found that Wayne Stenson had plowed her driveway. When she offered to pay, she said he just told her she was welcome, and to keep working to keep doing a good job for our city.

“Any time you need anything, your neighbors and community are there to help,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson’s day starts with a workout at 5 a.m. followed by a dog walk with her shelter adopted black Labrador, Yukon. Blackduck Elementary teacher Barb Moon, who also walks a black Lab, joins her.

She is a member of the National Rifle Association and earned her permit to carry recently. Gustafson agrees with the NRA position that this country doesn’t need more gun control laws. She said she grew up with a single mother who earned $10,000 a year and raised her and her sister on garden produce and venison. She said her upbringing taught her to value human life, respect guns and never touch them except for hunting. Other tenets of her family are to respect elders, work hard and treat people as she wishes to be treated.

“Thank God my mother encouraged my sister and me to go to college and be independent,” she said. “They raised us, if you want to do something, do it.”

Gustafson also recently accepted a challenge she never expected when a community member asked her to take the Polar Plunge into Blackduck Lake to help raise money for Blackduck Youth Baseball. The event will take place Feb. 23 along with the Firemen’s Relief Association Ice Fishing Derby. She said she originally agreed but said she would wear a wetsuit.

“The worst thing for me is to jump into a lake in February,” she said. “I was cold in South Padre. I wear long johns until June. I’m always freezing.”

But the sponsors of the Polar Plunge and others from the community teased her that a wetsuit would be cheating. So, Gustafson said she would wear shorts for the plunge if she received $1,000 in donations. As of last week, she was up to $845, so it looks as if shorts it is.