Shirley Wallin never intended to be Pelican Township's clerk for nearly 34 years. A former township supervisor asked her to fill the position in March 1985, and she said yes.
"I never realized I would stay on that many years," Wallin said Monday at town hall.
She still has a key to town hall, even though she officially retired and is now mentoring the next clerk - her nephew's wife, Jody Wallin, the former town treasurer. Shirley Wallin's granddaughter, Samantha Loberg, took over the treasurer role this year.
Many other Wallins were in the audience at Pelican Township's first meeting of the year Thursday, Jan. 10, when Shirley was honored for her years of service. She was happily surprised - and knew something was up - when she walked in the door and saw her four children and nine of 17 grandchildren sitting there. She and her husband, Calvin, also have four great-grandchildren with another on the way.
"The only people in the room I wasn't related to were the Breezy Point police officer and supervisors," Wallin said, noting the township maintenance man is her son-in-law.
Wallin was born and raised in North Dakota, where she met Calvin the year he taught there. He brought her home to "Wallinville" and they will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary in June.
Wallin was a stay-at-home mom who cleaned cabins on Saturdays. She worked for a couple summers at the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce, then was the baker at the Nisswa Inn downtown for several years, baking pies, cookies, doughnuts and dinner rolls.
Soon after becoming township clerk she started working part time for Arvig Telephone Co. That soon developed into a full-time job and she worked for the company, now TDS Telecom, in customer service for 21 years.
When Wallin became Pelican Township clerk, town hall was a one-room building. Ted Rice, supervisor at the time who asked Wallin to be clerk, fired up the wood stove early on meeting nights to heat the room. At a meeting to discuss paving all the township's roads (which has been done), so many people showed up the floor sank a bit and had to be redone, Wallin said.
The township installed baseboard heating at that time.
There were no computers when she first started either.
"Everything was done by hand," Wallin said. "The clerk and treasurer both entered stuff in financial books and it had to balance by the supervisors' audit."
The financials still have to balance today, but a computer program designed for townships is a big help. And meeting minutes are emailed to the three supervisors.
The township built a new town hall in 2009-10 with funds the township had in place. In addition to a big garage to hold the plow truck, the building has indoor plumbing. Until then, town hall only had an outhouse.
A recent change occurred when the town board decided to do mail balloting for the 2018 elections. People did show up at town hall on primary election day with ballots in hand. But the move lowered the cost of elections from about $2,000 to $1,000, Wallin said.
She'll miss the interaction with town board supervisors, Wallin said, though she will remain as deputy clerk in case the clerk is absent.
"We've had wonderful board members. We didn't get into any low-down, dragout fights," she said, noting any disagreements were civil.
"It wasn't that hard of a job," she said, noting she enjoyed learning about grassroots government. "It was something I could do, and a little extra money."
She admitted it was hard to sit in the audience at the Jan. 10 meeting.
"I thought of things to say but told myself, 'Keep your mouth shut,'" she said with a laugh.
Supervisor Bruce Galles served on the town board with Wallin since 1994.
"She has very high regard and I think love for Pelican Township," he said via phone. "Very dedicated. Knew her job well. Did her job to the best of her ability and served the residents of our township for 34 years."
Galles talked about the board's hard work to get into good financial standing without raising property taxes.
"We've really come a long way and Shirley has helped us get there," he said.
Supervisor Bob Olson has been on the board since 2005, along with a several year stint before that.
"She has a wealth of knowledge about the whole process and the laws and everything else associated with the Minnesota Association of Townships," he said via phone about Wallin. "She's been so dedicated. I think in her 34 years she has missed one, maybe two meetings. That's a phenomenal record ... Even when she had surgeries she still never missed meetings. That's how dedicated she is."
Wallin said she was in Washington state for her job at TDS for one of those missed meetings, and she missed another when her sister died.
In any spare time, Wallin helps her husband with the Wallin Berry Farm in the summers - including making jams and jellies - does sewing and quilting, baby-sits her younger grandchildren and is active with the women's group at First Baptist Church in Baxter.
It's evident that family is of utmost importance as Wallin talked about family traditions at Christmas and said they gather for major holidays as well as lots and lots of birthday parties.
"We're very family oriented," Wallin said. "Family means the most and I'm glad I have that."