CVB executive director retires after 13 years
After more than a decade as the executive director of the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, Susie Petersen will retire from the position on Friday.
Petersen said she started with the CVB in April 2007, and cited a love and passion for her community as the major reason she took the position. She said her goals were to build relationships and partnerships with organizations and stakeholders, and to be visible in the community.
Over the course of her time with the CVB, Petersen started a number of events, some on her own and others with committees. She started The Big Freeze with Randy Kehr, and in 2012 she worked with Tami Staker and Linda Knudsen to start the Wind Down Wednesday summer festivals. She worked with Sarah Stultz, as well as the city of Albert Lea and volunteers, to bring a splash pad to town, and partnered with Bob Furland of the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department to start Thursdays on Fountain, organizing sponsorships and grants from the city, Freeborn County, Explore Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to support the weekly spring and summer music events. She worked with Jerry Monson and Freeborn County Historical Museum to organize the annual Eddie Cochran Weekend, and — along with Tami and Tom Staker, Knudsen, Kristin Bergdale and Lynsie Stortroen — brought such events as the Holiday Bazaar, Strawberry Festival, Fall Festival and Halloween Spooktacular to downtown Albert Lea.
One of the most recent events Petersen helped bring to town, and easily one of the largest, was the 2019 Governor’s Fishing Opener, which had over 600 volunteers helping to showcase Albert Lea through various events around town and on area lakes.
“Wow, that was amazing,” Petersen said. “I am forever thankful of our core committee who made this event happen.”
Petersen will leave the direction of the CVB to Holly Karsjens, who she has been working with for over a month to make the transition as smooth as possible, despite the COVID-19 pandemic going on at the same time.
“Our personality styles were really looking forward to being hip to hip at the office, going through things at the desk together, as well as out and about in our community and neighboring communities, helping to make those initial connections for me,” Karsjens said. “But she has made even this a fun and caring venture through our virtual meetings and calls.”
Petersen said the CVB’s mission statement is “Develop awareness and promote tourism opportunities for both visitors and residents to experience the unique assets of Albert Lea and Freeborn County.” To Karsjens, Petersen has more than lived up to that statement.
“I have worked with Susie on many events over the past five-plus years, been in many meetings together, and have always felt so overwhelmingly welcomed by her,” Karsjens said. “She welcomes ideas, she welcomes differences, as long as it has — as long as it proved to have Albert Lea’s best interest in mind, she was game.”
With her new-found free time, Petersen said she plans to travel more, especially since she has grandchildren in Colorado and another grandchild on the way in Victoria.
“Love this community and the gems (that are the) lakes and will continue to enjoy our home here,” she said.
Leaving the position may be bittersweet, but Petersen said she is optimistic about Albert Lea’s future. While many would say she has left big shoes to fill, Petersen said she is confident Karsjens is up for the task.
“Holly Karsjens is amazing and will be a great leader for this organization,” Petersen said. “It has been an honor to serve the community, and I will forever cherish all the memories.”
“I believe that the biggest thing I will strive towards, that Susie cannot actually teach me, is how to carry the position with the grace that she has,” Karsjens said. “I might have to stop myself during future hard projects and difficult discussions and ask, ‘What would Susie do?’”