By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN Long-time Cokato resident Isabelle Mattson, 88, has been chosen as this year’s grand marshal for the Cokato Corn Carnival parade.
Mattson was chosen for her past contributions to the community, including her work as a school nurse.
“She always has had a kind heart and willingness to help others,” said Don Peroutka, who serves on the Cokato Corn Carnival Committee, which chose Mattson.
“She is very kind, generous, and giving of her time, energy, and in some cases, monetarily, to help other people,” Peroutka said.
Throughout the years, Mattson has spent time visiting with the elderly at various facilities, collecting clothing for the needy of Cokato and in church mission, and was instrumental in organizing the Cokato Area Food Shelf, Peroutka explained.
“Before there was a food shelf, she was the food shelf,” said daughter Carol Semke.
Russ Irvin has worked alongside Mattson for more than eight years and said the food shelf was one of her passions.
“In the days of handouts, she would give younger families tips on preparing meals she would even bring recipes to help make the food stretch farther,” Irvin said, who is co-director of the food shelf.
“She’s an amazing woman,” said Irvin, adding that she is very deserving of this honor.
In addition to her work at the food shelf, Mattson has served on numerous boards of directors including for hospitals, nursing homes, the Wright County welfare board, and her church.
She was also named Wright County Volunteer of the Year and Cokato Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.
Mattson also served 10 years on the Cokato Ambulance crew, having served in its first year.
As busy as she was, Mattson made time to enjoy quilting and home cooking.
Mattson could hardly believe it when she heard the news that she was this year’s grand marshal for the Cokato Corn Carnival parade.
“It was an honor to be chosen [as grand marshal]. I sure was surprised,” Mattson said, who spent many years working in the Lutheran church’s food stand at the Cokato Corn Carnival.
“I always made homemade pies for them,” she said.
Her fondest memories of the corn carnival are when her kids have come home for the event.
Most recently, Mattson was able to spend quality time with 13 of her family members while on an Alaskan cruise this past July.
This was her third trip to Alaska, “and I’d go again tomorrow if someone said ‘Lets go!,’ Mattson said.
There, she was able to see a lot of wildlife including whales and eagles. She also enjoyed the beautiful white-capped mountains.
“Pictures cannot capture what it really looks like,” she said.
The trip couldn’t have been planned at a more perfect time, Semke said.
Prior to the family’s departure, Mattson was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had surgery last Tuesday to have two-thirds of her intestine removed, along with her gallbladder.
Following surgery, her surgeon was confident that all of the cancer was removed, according to her CaringBridge site.
She is expected to spend one week at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and about a month recovering at Cokato Manor, where Mattson once served on the board.
“They’ll take good care of me,” Mattson said.
Following surgery, she was asked what her greatest accomplishment has been and she replied, “my family.”
Her family is hoping she will be able to ride in the parade, but if not, they will be there to ride in her honor, said Semke, who calls her mother a “positive and wonderful role model.”
Semke said her mother has been known to see the world with a glass half-full instead of half-empty.
Granddaughter Erica Riehm (Susan’s daughter) can attest to the sweet, caring, and giving person her grandmother Isabelle is.
“If there is someone in need, she finds a way to help. Whether it is through her background in nursing, making quilts through her church, or volunteering at the food bank, Isabelle is there,” Riehm said.
“I am sure everyone thinks their grandma is the best in the world, but mine really is,” she said.
Recalling when Mattson had surgery for breast cancer, the family was concerned her recovery would slow her down.
“Not a chance,” Riehm said. “She was quickly up to her old ways and living life to the fullest.”
Mattson originally grew up on a farm in rural Grove City, which happened to be the same farm where her father, Henry Olson was born. She was the oldest of four.
In December 1947, she married Gordon Mattson and moved to Cokato.
Together, the couple raised three children Steven, Susan, and Carol.
Mattson went for nurses’ training at St. Barnabus, which is now a part of Hennepin County Medical Center, and finished training in Seattle as a cadet nurse at a naval hospital. At the time, cadet nurses were needed to fill in for the nurses who were going overseas during World War II, Mattson explained.
For a few years, Mattson was a director of nursing for the Cokato Manor, but then went to Cokato Elementary, where she was the school nurse for 22 years.
“I really liked that,” Mattson said. She not only enjoyed working with the kids, but she also didn’t mind having her holidays, weekends, and summers free.
When asked what she enjoyed most about nursing, Mattson said “I think everything even the hard times.”
Mattson proudly speaks of her granddaughters and grandson, who also chose to be in the medical field.
She has a total of seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“I think the most important value my grandma has instilled in me is a strong sense of self and personal determination,” Riehm said. “I truly believe I can make a difference in the world, even if I am only one person. My grandmother certainly has.”
To send Mattson well-wishes, or for updates on her recovery, visit her CaringBridge site at www.caringbridge.org/visit/isabellemattson.