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Claggett: A woman of the people seeking re-election

Alice Claggett considers herself a woman of the people. Maybe that's because she has always been around so many of them.

She grew up with 13 siblings, raised seven children of her own and has 11 grandchildren.

Her past jobs at a cafe, several hospitals, a nursing home and a senior center kept her surrounded by customers, patients and clients.

Outside of work and family, she has met even more people through her involvement in numerous volunteer organizations.

Over the years, her network of friends and acquaintances grew so large that it ushered her into the mayor's office in 1998. Claggett, 77, is now counting on that network to win a fourth consecutive term.

"I do feel that I know a lot of people in town, they know who I am and they know what I stand for," Claggett said. "And that's never going to change, no matter what."

What Claggett stands for, she says, is the golden rule. As a child growing up in the small, central-Minnesota community of Pierz, she was taught by her mother to respect everyone.

"Her thing was you treat people the way you want to be treated," Claggett said, "and there's no other way."

Claggett remembers her mother rising at 5 a.m. most mornings to cook, clean and garden for the large family. Claggett's father took on many jobs, including farming, blacksmithing and raising dogs.

The children also were expected to work hard. Claggett got her first real job during her high school years, when she was hired to manage a café while the owners vacationed in Europe.

After high school, Claggett underwent nurse's training at a hospital in Minneapolis. She worked as a nurse in Montevideo, Minn., for 14 years before relocating to Mitchell during the 1960s.

During her first years in town, Claggett worked at St. Joseph's Hospital and enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University. She earned a degree in psychology and social work during the 1970s.

Claggett then left nursing and spent the rest of her professional career assisting the elderly at Firesteel Healthcare Center and the James Valley Community Center. She developed a passion for the work and came to value the wisdom of the city's older population.

"There is so much expertise out there," she said, "and we kind of shove it back because they're elderly."

Throughout her life, Claggett, a divorcee, has tried to balance family and work with her involvement in groups such as the YWCA, Eastern Star, Kiwanis, Lions, AARP, the Methodist Church, the Shrine Circus and her children's Scout troops.

"I was chairperson of almost any fund-raiser there ever was," she said.

After Claggett retired, she joined the 1998 mayor's race somewhat by accident. Her son, Paul, had planned to run but withdrew from the race just before the nominating deadline.

"I went and thanked everybody for supporting him," Claggett said, "and one of the gals said, Why don't you run?' "

Claggett entered the race and won an upset over two-term incumbent Mayor Don Dailey. She followed up with a win over former City Councilman Ed Anderson in 2000, and another win over former Davison County Sheriff Lyle Swenson and local businessman Bob Wieger in 2003. On April 11, she will face Lou Sebert and Rube Adam.

During Claggett's time as mayor, she has seen explosive economic growth and presided over multi-million-dollar city projects, including the construction of a Missouri River water pipeline and a new aquatic center. She has had disappointments, too, including the failure of a convention center proposal and the departure of a balloon museum from a city-owned building.

Through it all, she said, she tried to keep her focus on people. She pledges to do the same if she wins another term.

"I think I would be described as open to anybody, and I think I would listen to everybody," she said. "And there's no answers to everything, but I think the listening part is the most important thing."

If Claggett wins another three-year term, she will break a tie for the second-longest mayoral career in the city's history. Her eight years of service so far match the eight-year tenures of A.E. Hitchcock (1908-1916) and Leonard B. "Bud" Williams (1986-1994). The longest serving mayor was George Fredericks, who held the office for 12 years from 1928 to 1940.

Claggett seems ready to accept whatever the voters decide.

"If the people in the city of Mitchell want somebody else, that's OK with me," she said. "But I feel I am doing a pretty good job. And I certainly have learned an awful lot from people that have come in to talk to me."