“Like to do, hard to sit,” has been a recurring motto in the life of Beverly Bales, former Douglas County commissioner.

But Bales, 84, didn’t originally set out to be in government.

She grew up on a farm in Barnesville, Minn., the ninth of 10 children.

“Learning to work hard from the start, Bev has never been reluctant to take on a job, to do the work,” her daughter, Becky Cramlet, said.

Bales attended North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton, N.D., before going to work for International Business Machines (IBM) in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1957, she started as an executive secretary.

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“That was my first love,” Bales said.

She was content in this role until developing an interest in the technological side of the business, troubleshooting problems and making repairs.

This prompted Bales to transfer into dispatching. Area customers would call a main line phone number, which she and one other employee were responsible for answering. They would then allocate tasks for more than 60 engineers and technicians to go out and fix people’s office machines and computers.

From callers screaming about not getting something done or a maintenance plan not being followed through on, she said this position always kept her on her toes.

Keep climbing

Bales’ devotion to her dispatching work led to a promotion. In 1968, she transferred to IBM headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., where she became the company’s first female instructor for the field engineering division. Through this role, Bales traveled to 20 cities around the country, visited other IBM offices, shared her ideas and taught classes.

“That was super interesting,” she said. “I got to see an awful lot of the United States.”

Looking back on her career advances, Bales said she hopes to be remembered by all she accomplished as a female professional.

“Because in those days, a woman was not recognized at all as we are today,” she said.

While working at IBM, Bales also started going to night school for modeling. She modeled on nights and some lunch hours for coats and other clothing.

Eventually, Bales was asked to teach and started offering classes through the modeling school. Then, she was asked if she’d want to quit her job at IBM and teach modeling full-time.

But Bales didn’t choose that path.

Shifting career gears

Following her position as a traveling instructor, she transferred to IBM’s Minneapolis location to become an assistant personnel manager. There she met her future husband Bill Bales, an area manager for computer repair, and the two got married in 1970.

Together, they contemplated what their futures with IBM could look like. They were excited about the potential promotions, but had no desire to go to a bigger city.

“Might be Chicago or New York next,” Bales said. “We don’t want to live there!”

Instead, they started looking for a business to purchase together.

Neither one of them had experience in retail, but they looked into different hardware and grocery stores that were available.

They found an on-and-off sale business in Nelson, which they took ownership of in 1973. After Bill passed away in 1994, Bales kept the business going for six more years until selling it in 2000.

“It was an interesting thing, but in the meantime, I got very interested in government,” Bales said. “Of course, I’ve always been. I always liked helping people, and I think that was one good way of doing it.”

Jerry Johnson and Bev Bales were honored for their years of service as county commissioners at a board meeting in December 2016. (Echo Press file photo)
Jerry Johnson and Bev Bales were honored for their years of service as county commissioners at a board meeting in December 2016. (Echo Press file photo)

Joining government

Bales was elected as the Carlos Township supervisor in the early 1990s before becoming a Douglas County commissioner in 1993.

After some time out of office, she got some nudges from friends and area residents and was reelected as a county commissioner in 2005, a position she maintained until she decided to step down from government in 2016.

Bales said she has always been careful with her own finances, but she was even more cautious when making decisions in these positions.

“I watched pennies very, very closely,” Bales said. “Getting in government, I was even more cautious, I feel, because I was spending people’s money, not just mine.”

Firm in her beliefs and devoted to honesty, Bales said these qualities are what helped her succeed in these roles.

“While I was in government, I wanted to give answers and do things that the people wanted, and not for my advancement,” she said.

Beverly Bales misses living on Lake Carlos, but she's still able to take family and friends for rides on the pontoon. Her daughter, Becky Cramlet, now owns the boat and a lake cabin. (Contributed photo)
Beverly Bales misses living on Lake Carlos, but she's still able to take family and friends for rides on the pontoon. Her daughter, Becky Cramlet, now owns the boat and a lake cabin. (Contributed photo)

Giving back

Throughout her professional life, Bales received numerous awards.

At IBM, she was given suggestion and service awards for her ideas to save money and labor. She also won four service awards from the company, recognizing her excellence in job performance and customer service.

In her 16 years as county commissioner, Bales was recognized on the local, state and national levels. Her hometown high school also placed her in its Hall of Honor.

“It’s been exciting,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of things.”

After stepping down from county government in 2016, Bales continues to stay involved in the community however she can, giving back to others after a career full of advances.

She serves on a health board committee with the county and offers rides for people who can’t drive themselves, taking them to doctor appointments or out grocery shopping.

“I've had a wonderful life,” Bales said. “I've been very fortunate.”

She and her husband lived on Lake Carlos for more than 40 years, so Bales appreciates any chance she has to get back to the water.

People joked with her when she moved to her current residence that she could still see the lake, but Bales said she misses being able to step 10 feet out from her house and into the lake.

Since her daughter Becky Cramlet and son-in-law Adam have a cabin on Lake Carlos, Bales enjoys going on pontoon rides and watching her two grandsons, Drew and Collin, do various water sports.

“I think there’s something so soothing about water,” she said.

Other than taking family and friends out for rides on the boat, Bales also likes spending time cooking, prime rib being her favorite dish.

“That gives me a lot of enjoyment,” she said. “In particular, when you can’t move around as well physically, and no water skiing of course anymore. And bungee jumping, I guess, is out.”

With all the positions she’s held, places she’s volunteered and activities she’s kept up with over her lifetime, Bales said she fears the day when she won’t be able to live on her own anymore.

She’s had several spine surgeries, two hip replacements and two types of cancer, and she’s still living independently.

“Then they say, ‘Well, your work isn’t done yet,’” Bales said. “Well, let me know what else I’m supposed to do.”

No matter what comes her way, Bales continues to look past sitting idly and find things to do.

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.