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Known for helping others, Blaisdell now assists veterans

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Pierce County's new veterans service officer has a history of helping others.

Merlin Blaisdell has been president of the El Paso Community Club since its inception 13 years ago, chaired the citizens advisory committee for the county's land use plan in the 1990s and was most recently a member of Pierce's land management committee.

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But the Ellsworth area native wanted to share credit for his community service last week, his first on-the-job as successor to Irv Yelle. Coming from a family of seven children, his father was Victor, employed by the Pierce County Highway Department, and his mother was Myrtle, who liked to help their neighbors, he said.

He especially recognized the late Herman Jones of Fishermen's Rest along the Rush River in El Paso, under whose foster care he lived as a youth, farming a small dairy operation where the cows were milked by hand. Jones was always inviting people into his home for dinner.

"We'd usually end up with 10 people at the dinner table," he remembered, saying Jones' wife Alice made extra food and never failed to have enough.

That type of hospitality must have made an impression on Blaisdell because he's shown caring for his neighbors himself. For example, the organizer of the El Paso Days celebration has arranged to have a benefit breakfast, with proceeds going to the needy, be part of the annual event.

He considers his new position a chance to be of further help, specifically to veterans. He said duties of the county veterans service officer include coordinating federal and state benefits to veterans who qualify, providing service to those in veterans hospitals and assisting disabled veterans plus veterans' widows and their families.

"I'll be able to continue helping people," he said, reminding it's a team effort with Laurie Unseth as office secretary.

The 1966 graduate of Ellsworth High School began his own military service shortly after graduation, he said. Previously, he'd thought about becoming an architectural draftsman, attending vocational-technical college in Rice Lake to prepare for such a career. Then, he decided to pursue different work before enlisting in the Army in 1968.

For basic training, he was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., he said. Next, the Army sent him to Chicago to learn to be a food inspector. As an airborne food inspector with the Army's veterinary service, he was responsible for assuring the wholesomeness and safety of such foods as ham, eggs and spiced beef. Once in a while, a batch was rejected for having too much fat or gristle, but most was acceptable prior to mixing.

"We followed it all the way from the food plant until the time the troops ate it," he said.

His Army inspection job took him to a Minnesota operation making C-rations for three years and, during annual temporary stints, to places including Fort McCoy, Austin, Minn., and St. Paul, he said. He also was in Germany for three years, inspecting food plants there as well as furthering the education he'd also gotten through the Army in Texas. Last fall, he and wife Denise visited Germany, seeing his older brother who's a resident and renewing an acquaintanceship with her pen pal.

Twenty-one years and three months after enlisting, Blaisdell retired from the military. He said he was soon hired at Nelson's Supervalu in Baldwin, where he's been assistant manager for the last 14 years. He was aware of the recent veterans service officer opening through his county involvement and had actually applied for it once before, 10 years ago, when then-Buffalo County CVSO Yelle came here.

"There's a lot of paperwork and many things to learn," he said of his new post, grateful for Yelle's input last week. He hopes to visit all the Legion and VFW posts in the county in the near future.

The Blaisdells have a son, Jason, and a daughter, Emily. Besides his efforts for the community club, he's been council president for St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Ellsworth, and is a member of Ellsworth American Legion Post 204, the Association of the U.S. Army and the Army Retired Veterinary Enlisted Personnel. He enjoys golfing and bowling.

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