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Thank you, Mr. Mayor

Look around, Bemidjians

For those of us who live here, or at least visit often, you can't take a quick drive around Bemidji without seeing the influence of Doug Peterson.

Being the mayor for 25 years will do that.

Peterson died last Tuesday at the age of 75. His funeral was Monday.

So, for a third of his life, Peterson was Bemidji's top civic leader. But his service to the community dates back even longer -- he served on the City Council and was a volunteer firefighter, too, as reporter Zach Kayser noted in last week's story on Peterson's death.

Peterson was at the helm for a tremendous time in Bemidji's history. Much of how the city looks and, for lack of a better term, feels to us today was shaped during his tenure. From the expansion of the city's west into a retail corridor that attracts visitors for miles to the ongoing development of the city's south shore, Bemidji continued to progress under Peterson's leadership. During his time, Bemidji also continued to make strides in becoming a regional center, whether for health care or education or government services.

For sure, private interests and the business world drove much of these decisions. But as any developer will tell you, having strong, supportive local government personnel and processes in place is key to successful projects.

In a 2001 interview, Peterson said his mayoral approach was simple.

"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. "You don't stand still forever...and I chose to try to make it grow."

In an age when politics, whether at the local (sometimes), state (increasingly) or federal (almost always) level, seems to be much more about one-upmanship and partisan victories, it is refreshing to reflect on politicians who generally seemed to have the people's best interest at heart.

And Doug Peterson did it for 25 years as mayor. Twenty-five years. We were lucky to have him.

Former City Council member Bruce Atwater summed it up well in talking about Peterson.

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