Carol Meyer, 78, enjoys experiencing the Minnesota seasons from her back patio in Alexandria.

As she rocked back and forth on a porch bench one unusually warm November afternoon, a pumpkin with a Sharpie-drawn face sat next to one of the wooden railings.

A few weeks later, her front yard was adorned with all sorts of snowmen, bells and nativity figurines. One person stopped by and said her Christmas light display looked like the landing at the Fargo airport.

Regardless of the season outside or her season of life, Meyer said she looks back with no regrets.

“Are there some things I would’ve done differently? Maybe, but I didn’t always have the wisdom,” Meyer said. “Wisdom kinda comes over the years. There are very few things I would try to change.”

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Pursuing a unique educational path

Meyer was born in 1942 and graduated from grade school in a one-room country schoolhouse in 1956. Five years prior, the senior class at Underwood school had 14 students, but only eight had signed diplomas.

Since Meyer’s father believed in quality education, he decided that wasn’t suitable for his children. He sent Meyer’s older brother, Don, to what is now the University of Minnesota Morris, which was then called the West Central School of Agriculture, instead of Underwood.

Four years later, when it was Meyer’s turn to graduate from grade school, her father said she would be attending Underwood.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Don got to go to Morris. I want to go.”

So, she got her wish.

For her high school education, she lived on campus in Morris from September through March. Students would return home for the other six months so they could either work or help on the farm.

Meyer said she is most proud of the education she received at the West Central School of Agriculture. Later in life, she endowed a scholarship there in memory of her parents and has met some of the student recipients over the years.

“My parents had sacrificed to pay the tuition and room and board. Although it wasn’t a lot, it was still a lot for them back in the 1960s.” Meyer said. “I’m proud of the fact that I came out of that with a wonderful education, which has enabled me to do what I’ve done. I was in the right place at the right time for some fun jobs.”

Navigating her career niche

After graduation, Meyer started working as a bookkeeper for Mark Sand & Gravel Company in Fergus Falls. She married, had two children and moved to Alexandria in 1963.

Since then, Meyer has worked as a bookkeeper for most of her life. She worked for Minnesota Motors, which eventually changed its name to Alexandria Motors. After the regional branch of Financial Programs closed, Meyer found herself unemployed, but she knew a few of the people who were interested in starting Community State Bank.

“I like to say I got started back in 1970 with them,” she said. “Did their charter papers on a rented typewriter on my kitchen table.”

Meyer was one of the original eight employees who started the bank on Feb. 22, 1972. She stayed with the bank until 1995 when it merged with Norwest Bank. She said had the option of going from operations to commercial lending and receiving a pay cut or leaving the business. Meyer chose the latter.

Following her time at the bank, Meyer continued to do consulting for several years. She also started doing bookkeeping at the Runestone Museum. She served on the board for two different terms for a total of 12 years.

“I love numbers,” Meyer said. “I find them interesting and a challenge, invariably because I’m a former banker and accountant, any organization I’m with (says,) ‘Oh, you can be treasurer because you know what’s happening here.’”

For the last 14 years, she said her passion has been volunteering with West Central Community Action doing taxes for low-income families.

“It’s one of the most satisfying things that I do in a given year,” Meyer said. “You always have a feel-good story about the person that you were really able to help that had no idea that some of these things were available to them. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing that.”

A married woman came in once and asked to have her taxes filed separately from her husband’s because he didn’t have an identification card. When he brought his Social Security card in to get a driver’s license before they moved to Minnesota, the representative said it wasn’t valid because it had been laminated.

“It’s so sad because somebody felt like they had a lot of power, and they were just ruining somebody else’s life,” Meyer said.

Back in the West Central office, Meyer asked the woman if she could talk to her husband about the situation. Over the phone, she informed him that he could bring his old card to a Social Security office and get a brand new one issued.

Because Meyer took the time to get to the root of the issue, the couple received around $5,000 more than they would have if they had filed separately.

“You can have a huge impact on people, and for the most part, people are really wonderful,” she said. “This community has been so good to me, and I relish the chance to give back.”

Nativity and reindeer figures frame the sidewalk in front of Carol Meyer's house in downtown Alexandria. Whether sharing festive decorations with the community or inviting a few friends over for social time on her back patio, Meyer said she likes living in this spot. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)
Nativity and reindeer figures frame the sidewalk in front of Carol Meyer's house in downtown Alexandria. Whether sharing festive decorations with the community or inviting a few friends over for social time on her back patio, Meyer said she likes living in this spot. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

Learning to love leisure

In her spare time, Meyer said she participates in a variety of activities such as gardening, “grandmother-ing,” golfing and volunteering.

She said her favorite form of vacationing is going on cruises, and she used to camp quite a bit.

“I’ve seen an awful lot of states and seen a lot of things,” Meyer said. “There aren’t too many things left on the bucket list I’m afraid I won’t get done. I don’t know that I ever really had a bucket list, it’s just ‘I think this would be fun.’”

She was once on a cruise with former president Jimmy Carter and his family. Meyer saw his grandchildren crawling up all over his lap and listened when he and his wife talked about their life experiences and the books they had written.

When the Meyers were trying to decide where to eat, they saw the Carters coming out of one restaurant and decided that would be a safe bet.

“A small claim to fame,” Meyer said. “It’s been a busy, full life.”

Both of Meyer’s children were swimmers growing up. Four of her grandchildren also ended up enjoying the sport, so she followed swimming from the early 1970s through 2016 when she went to watch one of her grandchildren swim. Her son is now a swimming coach in Brainerd, so she tries to go to at least one meet of his every year.

“It’s been a fun thing to follow,” Meyer said. “Seen a lot of kids come and go over the time period.”

She married her late husband, LeRoy Meyer, in 1988. With “bonus” family members on the Meyer side, she has a dozen grandchildren plus 15 great-grandchildren.

“Life is never boring,” she said.

She’s also a huge baseball fan and cross-stitch embroiderer. Meyer has embroidered baby quilts for all of her grandchildren and most of her great grandchildren, and she usually completes these projects while a baseball game plays in the background.

“You can watch baseball without paying a whole lot of attention, and just look up when you hear something happen when the announcers go wild,” Meyer said.

Even though she has a town lot, Meyer has created a sanctuary in her backyard. She plants lots of potatoes and cabbage, so she can make sauerkraut every fall.

“There’s not years and years of future left,” Meyer said. “I hope to stay where I’m living. I enjoy this spot. I want to be able to help my family out as much as I can and still continue to be a productive person.”

This is a part of "Friendly faces in familiar places," an occasional series telling the stories of the unique people that make up the Douglas County community through writing, photo and video. To nominate an individual to profile for this series, email Jasmine at jrjohnson@echopress.com.