Harvey Ronglien turns 90 years old

You can come wish Harvey Ronglien a Happy 90th Birthday tomorrow, Fri May 5, at the Owatonna Center for the Arts / Orphanage Museum, in Owatonna, Minnesota. Open House from 3 pm - 6 pm. This extraordinary gentleman endured a love-less upbringing at the orphanage, but somehow grew up to be a generous and caring husband and father. He spent many years educating people about the history of the orphanage, starting the museum there, writing a book, and giving talks and tours. Such dedication.

Larry & Doreen Von Berg - "Give Love a Chance"

Larry Von Berg picked up the Star Tribune one day in September of 2013, and read an article about homelessness in the Twin Cities. Toward the end of the article, a name jumped off the page at him. Doreen Marie Donovan.  He had finally found her! It said she was working at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis. It was five miles from where he worked, at the Courage Center. He hadn’t seen Doreen since 1974. They had volunteered together at the U of M back then, and went out together a few times, but when they both moved away, they had lost touch, but that was about to change!

 Larry and Doreen Von Berg

 

 

Chuck & Sherri Leyda - What Each One Needs

We’ve known Chuck & Sherri Leyda for many years. One night I was scrolling through Facebook, and  noticed Sherri was posting in the middle of night (Yeah, I stay up late!). Something about frying bacon for the kids. They have three children, two of whom are severely autistic. I started prowling their Facebook page, trying to discover what their life is like these days.

“Pulled another all nighter with Ro and Clara. Clara actually went to sleep at 5 am,” read one post.  Another post reported, “ She was up all last night screaming, head banging, and pinching.” Another, written by Sherri, said, “I am thankful for Clara, who showed me how to be spontaneous within the parameters of a strict schedule; I am thankful for Rowan, who has shown me exactly where the end of my rope is and the knowledge that I can climb back from it; I'm thankful for Mary, who has taught me a completely different way of parenting and the joy of knowing her thoughts and feelings.”  I started to understand what their everyday (and night!) life was like, and I detected absolutely no resentment or resignation about what their life has become.

The Leyda family having snacks at the Minnesota Zoo

 

Mary Ann Peltier Rigney - aka Dragonfly

Mary Ann Peltier Rigney was a friend of mine growing up in Stillwater, Minnesota. She was always a very positive person, but I never noticed it as much as when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November of 2008. I got together with her February 5, 2015 for an interview at her home. I asked how she had first discovered the cancer. She told me she was working in a chiropractic office at the time, and had to lay flat on her stomach on the floor one day to reach under a shelf to adjust the stereo system in the office. Except that she couldn’t lay flat. She said it felt like she was lying on an inflated balloon. She didn’t have any pain, but she knew something was wrong.

I sang the song I'd written about Mary Ann to her for the first time on June 18, 2015

 

 

Glennis Ter Wisscha and The Willmar 8

In November of 1976, the Citizen’s National Bank in Willmar, Minnesota, hired a young man. He had gotten the job because the bank president had lost a game of golf with the young man’s father. The women employees at the bank were told to train him in and “teach him everything you know,” then he will be your supervisor. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was not the first time this had happened, but several of the women decided it would be the last.  Armed with the information that these men were making almost twice as much as the women, several of the women went into the bank president’s office to protest. His answer was “We are not all equal you know. Men need to earn more, so they can take girls out on dates.” The women formed their own union and went out on strike on December 16, 1977. The windchill was 70 below zero.

Loretta interviewed Glennis Ter Wisscha in Minneapolis on May 18, 2015   (Curtis was the photographer!)

35W Bridge Collapse Survivor Garrett Ebling

Garrett Ebling usually never crossed the 35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis. He lived and worked in the southwest suburbs, so there was no need, except on August 1, 2007. His company picnic was held at Como Park in St Paul, and afterwards they all went to a restaurant in Roseville. He planned to go south on Snelling, then take Highway 94 to 394, back home. But he missed the turn for Snelling. Ending up on 35W, he decided that would work fine. Rush hour traffic was terrible and he thought he would take the first exit south of the bridge and cut through downtown Minneapolis to get to 394, to bypass some of the traffic. But he never got across the bridge that day.

Curtis and I live in northeast Minneapolis, just a couple miles from the 35W bridge. We drive over it all the time, but not that day. The first I heard of the collapse was when my mom called immediately to see if we were OK, and I said, "Why?" Everyone in the Twin Cities was calling everyone, to see if they'd been "on the bridge." I stood in our backyard that evening, listening to the rescue helicopters in the distance. It was an eery, surreal feeling. The next morning I was compelled to go see it with my own eyes. Police kept people back quite a way.  I stood on the University Avenue overpass over 35W, and though I saw the devastation with my own eyes, I still couldn't quite believe it.  As the days went by and bodies were recovered, and stories of survivors came out, I read everything I could find. 

When There's Good to be Done - Christy Harding's story

A little over one year ago, a Florida woman woke up in the recovery room at Fairview Riverside Hospital in Minneapolis.  She’d just had her kidney removed. A team quickly transported it across the Mississippi River, to Children’s Hospital. A team of surgeons had already prepped 2 year old Arianna Moore, and when the precious organ arrived, they transplanted it into the toddler. Today, that little girl is 3 years old, and healthier than she has ever been in her short life, thanks to a total stranger, Christy Hart Harding of Jacksonville, Florida.

I first heard about this incredible story in May of 2014. I was watching the local news on TV in Minneapolis, and the reporter said a woman from Florida had heard about a Pine River, Minnesota girl’s need for a kidney on Facebook. She had gotten all the tests, was a perfect match, and was flying up to Minneapolis for the operation. I was intrigued. How does someone make that decision, to be tested to donate a kidney to a stranger? What kind of person does that? I was determined to meet this woman, and ask if I could write about her.

Lester Schrenk - Survived WWII German Death March

The year was 1942, and Lester Schrenk's parents didn't want him to enlist. They lived on a farm in Long Prairie, and Les was 19 years old. Nevertheless, he went ahead and joined the Army-Airforce (all one branch of the military then). He went to basic training, mechanic training, then gunner training, and one year later he was overseas, going on missions in a B-17, as a ball turret gunner.

I interviewed Lester at his retirement home in Bloomington, on January 31. Curtis and I had played music for the residents there many times over the years. I asked the activities director if she knew of any residents who had a story to tell that might fit my grant project - people who had overcome great challenges in their lives. With no hesitation she said, "You have to talk to Lester Schrenk." 

 

Harvey Ronglien's story - "State Schooler"

The grant year started January 1, and I hit the ground running. The first interview I did was with Harvey Ronglien, in Owatonna, Minnesota. In 2010, Curtis and I did a concert at the Owatonna Arts Center.  In the back hallways, there were many glass display cases, filled with photos, articles, and artifacts from the 1930s and 40s. They told the story of the "State School," the state orphanage in Minnesota.   

Loretta and Harvey in the living room of Cottage 11. The kids were required to scrub and wax this living room floor, but they could never sit in there. It was for "show" only, such as when visitors came, which was very seldom.

 

 

Grant from Arts Board vs Rocking on the Porch!

When I was a little kid, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch with the family on a warm summer night, we would watch the cars go by. Understand that I grew up in the country, right on Highway 36 (then called 212), which led  into downtown Stillwater, Minnesota. Nowadays untold thousands of cars pass that way each day, but in those days each car was an exciting event. I dearly wanted to know where each one was going.  What was their story - where had they come from, where were they headed, what would they do when they got there, had they encountered roadblocks along the way?

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Feb 2, 2018
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