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COMMENTARY: League of Women Voters recognizes area women business owners

All throughout March, we have been seeing tributes to women on Facebook, newspapers, emails, etc.

According to Wikipedia, in February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women's History Week. The proclamation stated, "From the first settlers who came to our shores. . .men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America were as vital as those of the men whose names we know so well."

Since 1988, U.S. presidents have issued annual proclamations designating March as Women's History Month.

In recognition of amazing business women owners, the League of Women Voters of the Park Rapids Area (LWV) acknowledges and celebrates their economic and social impact on our area during March.

Drawing from memory and other resources, Helen Peterson, an area business owner since 1957, and LWV member Florence Hedeen came up with a list of women business owners in Park Rapids. There are too many to list individually, but they identified 125 plus, including women who are no longer in business.

Women often succeeded their predecessors as owners. All contributed to the economy of the area. One of the themes running through their remembrances was that women and men start businesses in equal numbers, but the women they remember did not give up; they persisted continually, refining their businesses.

Today, the largest group, 47 female business owners, are day care providers certified by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Of the businesses owned by women, many have deep roots in the area, including some of the 24 in retail sales. Health care follows with 21. Beauty shops in the Yellow Pages number 14, with many others not listed, but most are owned and operated by women. Business women owning food establishments number eight, followed by real estate/finance, recreation, building/industry, bed and breakfasts, and resorts, totaling 20.

Peterson noted that, in her day, women worked because they had to and most still do. Childcare for six children cost 50 cents a day.

She also mentioned the Village of the Smoky Hills, which operated from 1984-1991, west of Osage. Lorelei Kraft was the president and came up with the concept because people were driving the backroads to make candles at her first business, The Candle Factory. Hedeen was one of the 12 founding mothers of the village. The video of that endeavor, "Five Weeks and Five Days, is available through the library.

Hedeen's husband, Carter, called it a master's degree in business. After the first three years as food service director, Hedeen returned to her former work as full-time mom and volunteer, and Peterson filled the vacancy. During the same period, Peterson was establishing the Third Street Market in Park Rapids, which continues today.

LWV Park Rapids wants to say "thank you" and honor all the women entrepreneurs. Since LWV will be celebrating its 100 birthday and 100 years of women getting the right to vote next year, we are planning several events with our local partners to highlight the importance of this anniversary. The year 2020 is the perfect time to join with LWV Park Rapids Area.

For more information or to join our efforts, contact Carolynne White, President, lwvparkrapids@lwvmn.org or 218-732-9819