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Chamber president relishes role

Shawn Hansen never thought she’d leave the Iowa town where her family lived and where she was raising a family of her own.

Now a resident of Lake Shore and president of the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce, Shawn said she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Shawn began her work at the chamber part time in the summer and said it was a natural progression to becoming the chamber’s only full-time staff member.

Before moving to Minnesota, Shawn and her husband, Terry, lived in northwest Iowa, where Terry was in law enforcement. He was ready for a career change, and the two took a position working for a resort on Gull Lake.

The Hansens interviewed on Halloween of 1998 and arrived on April Fool’s Day in 1999. They worked at the resort for two seasons and brought with them their two daughters, Kara and Alanna, then 4 and 6.

“I wanted to raise my kids somewhere with a strong faith community and solid school system,” Shawn said.

Shawn is a member of the Nisswa Women’s Club, and she is also an active member of Nisswa’s Lutheran Church of the Cross. She’s on the new member committee and serves regularly at the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen in Brainerd.

She said her work at the resort was helpful in her work at the chamber, as she became familiar with area resorts.

The Nisswa Chamber of Commerce has more than 315 members. Shawn is responsible for day-to-day operations and for supporting the chamber’s mission, which includes promoting businesses, the community and quality of life.

One of the main responsibilities of the chamber is to coordinate annual events. Shawn said this year will be the 54th year of the Welcome Wannigan, which serves coffee and doughnuts to fishermen on fishing opener on Gull Lake. It will also be the 50th year of the summer turtle races.

Shawn’s favorite event, though, is the City of Lights celebration held the day after Thanksgiving.

“It’s small-town America at its utmost finest,” Shawn said. “There’s nothing better than fireworks that have trickled down over the snow.”

She loves the event planning.

“At the end of the day you see how many people are smiling because of the event,” she said.

Shawn loves the fact that Nisswa is a destination city and that people visit to spend a day, a week or, like her, move to the area to live. She feels the founders of Nisswa set up a legacy, and pointed to the fact that people know the Nisswa name across the Midwest.

“It’s our obligation to carry that forward,” Shawn said.

She wants to keep Nisswa businesses where they are and make Nisswa a place businesses where want to move.

Shawn said the chamber has some businesses that have been members for 30 years or more. The chamber is a not-for-profit business and relies heavily on the hard work from dedicated volunteers. She said the chamber is in a sustainable position and growing every year.

While her position at the chamber doesn’t represent a lifelong goal, Shawn said, “Now that I’m here I realize there were all kinds of things leading up to me doing this.”

She’s in the area to stay.

“We might not be born and raised, but realized (shortly) this would be home,” she said.