Lisa Breecher, whose wide smile and fervent work ethic endeared her to shoppers at the Apple Valley Wal-Mart and the former Dayton's in Burnsville, died of abdominal cancer Oct. 19 at her group home in Rosemount. She was 52.
Breecher, who lived with cognitive disabilities as the result of a birth injury, worked mightily to do her best in all aspects of her life, an effort that was inspiring to her family and her friends with developmental disabilities, said her mother, Caryl Breecher.
"What I learned from Lisa is that people don't have to be highly intelligent to offer a lot -- there are all levels of contributions in this life," her mother said. "She always worked so hard, and when she was able to function at a higher level than some of her friends, they would see how well she was doing and try to do their best, too."
Breecher barely survived birth at a Minneapolis hospital after being deprived of oxygen because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, said her mother, a career nurse. She and Lisa's father, Arthur, wanted the best for their first child -- the family eventually included two younger brothers -- and Caryl said she "pushed hard for Lisa to learn to read and write, and to be as independent as possible."
But "things were different back then, and not everyone felt as we did," Caryl said. "She got teased a lot -- kids can be pretty cruel -- but her brothers did their best to protect her," Caryl said.
The family moved to Burnsville in the 1970s, where, Caryl said, Breecher received respectful support and the best possible education as a special-needs student. "Time had moved on, and schools were doing better about integrating and supporting children with special needs," she said.
After high school, Breecher worked at what was then Dayton's in Burnsville, closing its restaurant every night. In the mid-1990s, she blossomed even further when she began to get training from Lifeworks Inc., a Minnesota nonprofit. She was soon working as a greeter and clothes sorter at the Apple Valley Wal-Mart.
"She loved the customers and all the people who worked there, and they loved her," her mother said.
Breecher's brother David said Caryl and Lisa would often spend weekends with him, his wife and their five children at their home in Hudson, Wis. "She never forgot a birthday, and made cakes for all of us," David said. "It was so good to see her enjoying herself as an adult, because her childhood was not always easy, what with the teasing. Yet I never once heard her complain about anything at all."
Breecher may not have been fully aware of the gravity of her terminal cancer diagnosis, or maybe she understood and it simply didn't dent her joy in life, her mother said. Just two weeks ago, 200 friends from all walks of life came to a party for her at the Apple Valley Community Center.
"When Lisa was a little girl, I hoped and dreamed that she might be able to be fully independent in living and in work," Caryl said. "As it turned out, my hopes extended beyond her abilities, but she was inspiring to so many people in what she could do. And she was always kind and caring, always concerned about me and others."
About 150 people turned out for Breecher's funeral Thursday at the church she loved, Prince of Peace Lutheran in Burnsville. In addition to her mother and David, her survivors include another brother, Philip, of Burnsville.
Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290