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Anna G. Larson, Published April 18 2013

Inspiring confidence: YWCA award recipient recalls its influence in her life

If you go

What: 40th annual YWCA Women of the Year event

When: April 29

Where: Holiday Inn

Info: Tickets are $75, and a portion of each ticket is tax-deductible. To purchase tickets, call (701) 232-2547 or stop by either YWCA location.

FARGO - In 1973, 21-year-old Paulette Rastedt (Rehling-Letnes) had no idea how much a wallet-size card from the YWCA would later influence her life.

Rastedt, of Fargo, received the card when she won the first YWCA Young Woman of Tomorrow award. Her sorority at North Dakota State University, Kappa Alpha Theta, nominated her for her leadership work on campus.

When Rastedt received the award banquet invitation, she replied that she wasn’t coming because she was too busy. Katherine Burgum, then the dean of the school’s home economics program, had other plans for Rastedt. Burgum invited her as a guest.

“You didn’t say no to Katherine,” Rastedt says. “That part alone was very special to me, to be in her company that night.”

At the banquet, Rastedt received her award – a piece of decoupage wood with calligraphy writing on it – and a small card that stated she was a YWCA Woman of the Year.

“I always carried it, and I’d look at it and think, ‘Somebody believed in me, that I could do this,’” she says. “And I used that many times when times got tough, when days were hard.”

After opening eight successful restaurants in St. Cloud, Minn., and Billings, Mont., Rastedt and her husband divorced. She moved to Fargo in 1985 alone with her two small children, ages 2 and 4, and went back to school to “repurpose” herself. She got her CPA and MBA and taught accounting at NDSU.

Of her divorce, Rastedt is quick to say that other women have worse circumstances than she did, but the little card from the YWCA kept her spirits up.

“I was a very self-confident person before, but when you go through a divorce, no matter how self-confident you are, you lose some of that and you need to work hard to get that back,” she says. “I realized how scary that situation was (divorce), and yet I had an education, I was going to be financially fine, I had a family to support me. It was still scary. I had to do it myself.”

Rastedt’s story fits with the YWCA’s mission of empowerment and lifting people up, says Erin Prochnow, executive director of YWCA Cass-Clay.

“I think it’s important to recognize people like Paulette and their accomplishments in this community,” she says. “All too often people aren’t recognized for what they do.”

Now in its 40th year, the YWCA Women of the Year event has recognized 417 women, organizations and businesses. The YWCA is celebrating the milestone by inviting back past award recipients for a special, private event the night before the annual event.

Prochnow says the women have shaped the community’s past and present and will continue to shape the future.

“That message that they collectively send to this next generation of leaders is, ‘This is what’s happened before, you can do this,’ ” she says. “They light that ignition and say there are lots of opportunities right here to be helpful.”

Rastedt is passionate about the YWCA because the organization builds up women.

“They’re there for women the same way that one thing, that card, was there for me, saying ‘I know you can do it,’ ” she says. “I don’t believe people were put on earth to see what they could get out of it, to be takers. I see everybody is put here to see how they can leave it better. They (the YWCA) don’t just give to the people, they say let’s help you so you will always be self-sufficient.”

Since she won the award 40 years ago, Rastedt has continued her philanthropic endeavors and community involvement. Each holiday season, Rastedt and her children would pick out gifts for a family through YWCA’s Adopt a Family program.

Her daughter continued the tradition even after she left for college, and today, Rastedt hopes her grandchildren follow her footsteps.

Rastedt is currently the director of finance for Maintenance Engineering in Fargo, a grandmother to three, mother to her two daughters plus a stepson and stepdaughter, and wife.

Recognition by the YWCA gave Rastedt something to live up to, she says.

“It was a challenge to continue to do this and inspire others to become involved and mentor them,” she says. “My belief for all of these women over the years is that they never set out to receive an honor. It’s just who they are, what they do, because that’s them.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525.