A knock on her home’s door signaled a life change for Mary Bjerke.
It came from the mayor of Volga, the community she calls home. “The mayor asked me to fill an open position on the city council. I wouldn’t have gone into city government if he had not knocked on my door,” explains Bjerke who served 16 years on the Volga City Council and became the city’s first female mayor in 2011.
Prior to Mayor Albright’s request, service to her community wasn’t a new concept for Bjerke. “Community was a very important part of our family. My dad served on several community boards and my mom was involved in the church,” says Bjerke, who grew up on a dairy farm near Bruce.
Throughout her 20 years of service to the Volga community, Bjerke worked to make the community a better place to live and grow through residential and business expansion. During her tenure, the community earned the status of Tree City USA and received state recognition for their efforts in community improvement. She poured time into improving pedestrian safety and helped the community build new buildings for city hall and the fire department.
After Bjerke stepped down from her position as mayor in 2015, she served on a task force to establish a new Volga Community Center and currently serves on the board of the Volga Housing and Redevelopment Commission.
“I believe if you have a passion and perseverance to serve, you should,” Bjerke says. “I enjoy being part of something bigger than myself.”
Service to others is also a strong focus of the culture at Larson Manufacturing Company, where Bjerke has worked since 1994. She is the Channel Marketing Manager.
“My employment at Larson has really magnified what I do and how I am able to give back,” she says, explaining that the culture of service begins with the company’s president, Dale Larson. “He really instills in employees the importance of giving back and contributing to the community. He lives it and provides employees with the flexibility to serve.”
Recognized for her service, Bjerke has received the Brookings Friends of Arts Award, Brookings Area Chamber Women in Leadership and Learning Volunteer of the Year Award, Volga Beta Psi People Helping People Award and the Brookings County Liberty Bell Award.
Over the years she has served on the Brookings Economic Development Corporation, currently serves on the board of directors for Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota and gives back to several local non-profits and organizations donating her talents as a graphic designer.
An art enthusiast since childhood, when Bjerke was ready to make a career move, she gravitated to graphic design at South Dakota State University.
When the decision was made to pursue a bachelor’s degree in 1989, she knew she had the support of her husband, Russell and her now-grown daughters, Christianne Beringer and Nichole Hofer, who were in elementary school at the time.
Balancing a part-time job and parenting, while managing a full class load was not easy. “It was hard work, but I grew up knowing hard work and I wasn’t afraid of it. It was a big family commitment, but I had the support of my family. Everyone pitched in and helped. I could not have done this without my family’s support.”
When Bjerke discusses her family, she includes Steffanie Wolff from Germany. In 2009, at age 20, Wolff suffered from acute myelogenous leukemia. Through Be The Match international organization, Bjerke was able to donate stem cells. Today, Wolff is a healthy 29-year-old who Bjerke considers a third daughter. In 2017, she served as officiant when Wolff married Alex Dolz in Boppard, Germany.
“I have learned that there is nothing more powerful than giving the gift of life,” Bjerke says.