Linda Steffens lived in Chicago for most of her life, but made the nine-hour drive to Fifty Lakes as often as possible to visit property she owned with her husband.
Now, not only is she a full-time Fifty Lakes resident, but she is also the mayor.
Steffens said she decided to get involved in city government because she wanted to see more get done. After serving for two years as a council member in Fifty Lakes, Steffens decided to go a step further and run for mayor.
"There was lots of dissention on the council," she said. "And last time, (former mayor Tim Anick) ran unopposed. Having options is a good thing."
She spent the evening of the November election at the Fifty Lakes Bar and Bottle Shop to watch the results roll in. She said that of course it felt good to win, but it didn't come as a very big surprise.
"I talked to a lot of folks and got a lot of positive feedback leading up to the election," she said.
Steffens was sworn in and led her first council meeting as mayor on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
"Having my first council meeting with a room full of residents was kind of nerve-wracking," she said.
The city council filled two open seats during the first meeting of the year, so a high number of residents attended to show their support for the applicants.
Steffens said that being forward and outgoing doesn't come naturally to her, but her work on the council and subsequent mayoral campaign brought her into the spotlight.
"It made me focus on getting out there to meet people," she said. "Now that I'm older I have less fear of what people think."
Originally hailing from a large city, Steffens said she thinks her perspective gives her an edge in her new position.
"Because I don't have a long history here, I don't have preconceived notions," she said. "Things change, times change, and you don't know if something will work better now than it did the first time it was tried."
Steffens grew up and spent most of her adult life in Chicago as a controller and vice president of finance for a furniture retailer. Her husband, Tom, also lived in Chicago, but spent many summers as a child in Fifty Lakes.
The couple still has love letters Tom wrote when they were 16 years old that are postmarked from Fifty Lakes.
When the two decided to build a lake house, choosing a location was easy. They started building in 2001, and drove up every other month from Chicago for small vacations.
"I call that dedication," said Steffens.
In 2014, with both children fully grown and having kids of their own, Steffens and her husband moved to Minnesota full time.
Steffens said her job in Chicago was stressful, so moving up north and retiring in a small town was a welcome change.
"People are a lot more friendly here," she said. "It's been fun meeting people in a small-town environment. I have a lot more friends here."
Steffens is a regular at meat raffles and bingo nights, and she said her husband has "all the appropriate up-north toys" to keep them busy. Her favorite activity is riding all-terrain vehicles on the trails.
The only downside to small-town living, she said, is that she needs to drive all the way to Brainerd when she wants to do certain kinds of shopping.
As mayor of Fifty Lakes, Steffens is now a well-recognized figure around town. She was just sworn in earlier this month, but she already has ideas to set into motion.
Steffens originally joined the council to help make changes for the better, specifically regarding road improvements and infrastructure.
Now, she has her sights set on several goals regarding local business, natural resources and efficiency.
"I want us to get more proactive rather than reactive," said Steffens.
She said she has a meeting set up with the Department of Natural Resources to discuss funding aquatic invasive species monitoring at a city level. Currently, she said, the city doesn't have funds to manage a potential infestation.
Steffens also wants to encourage more commercial business to settle in Fifty Lakes. With her retail experience, she said, she understands that world and wants the city to be an inviting place for potential business owners.
This includes working closely with the bar. Fifty Lakes Bar and Bottle Shop has not always been profitable, making the continuation of its operations a point of contention among residents. Steffens believes it can become a steady center of the community even if it isn't wildly profitable.
"I think Fifty Lakes as a city is capable of being more if we properly manage our resources and use them to our advantage," she said. "I'd like to make this an even better place to live. It's already a great place, I want to make it even better."