Alyn Shannon founded Haiti relief agency

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 16, 2010 - 8:43 PM

The White Bear Lake artist and graphic designer "with a huge heart for people" started a nonprofit with her husband to reach out to the poor in Haiti.

As a virulent breast cancer pushed Alyn Shannon's life to a close, she was busy living.

In August she traveled to Haiti to help the poor. In September she covered her bald scalp with a silly party hat to celebrate her 52nd birthday. In October she used a wheelchair to get to church.

Days before entering hospice, she worked doggedly on designing the online catalog for the White Bear Center for the Arts, and finished.

"She insisted," said friend Suzi Hudson, the center's executive director. "Her involvement with the world was so important to her ... the last thing she would say was, 'No, I'm too sick.'"

Shannon died Nov. 10 at her White Bear Lake home. She was an artist and graphic designer who with her husband, Jeff Gacek, founded the nonprofit group Healing Haiti. The organization sends teams to Haiti to work with the poor and supports a school, a water purification truck and two orphanages housing 62 children. Working with groups like Feed My Starving Children, Healing Haiti has sent hundreds of thousands of meals to Haiti.

"It was never about her; it was always about others and what God was leading her to," Gacek said.

Shannon grew up in Bloomington. She took commercial art classes in vocational college, where she met D'Arcy Allison-Teasley, whom she hired when she started a graphic design business. They became close friends. Allison-Teasley was there when Shannon met Gacek as they toured his printing plant.

"I could see by the look on his face that there was something there, an irresistible force," Allison-Teasley said. "We got back to the office and I said to Alyn, 'He's going to call you and ask you for a date.' ... He did, and the rest is history. There was a special chemistry between them."

The two married in 1983 and ran Diversified Graphics. Shannon also founded Paper Prints, a stationery company.

In 2006, after 20 years of donating to missions in Haiti, the two traveled there and felt God was calling them to help the poor. They sold their businesses and created Healing Haiti.

Shannon traveled to Haiti many times but kept a hand in the art world, creating eclectic stone and metal jewelry for a business she called gs2studios. All profits go to Healing Haiti.

Shannon learned jewelry-making at the White Bear Center for the Arts, where she became communications coordinator. She created a logo for the group and did the online class catalogs -- all for free.

Several years ago, Shannon learned that Hudson was a breast cancer survivor. The next day, "a beautiful orchid arrived at my home with a note saying, 'We're so lucky to have you,'" Hudson said.

A few months later, Shannon's cancer was diagnosed.

"She had a huge heart for people and animals, and as she and Jeff ventured out into the world, they made a difference," Allison-Teasley said. "It's like they'd been training for this their whole life, and then the job was there."

Besides her husband, Shannon's survivors include son Jeffrey and surrogate son Djovany, a Haitian who is attending high school here. A celebration of life will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the White Bear Lake campus of Eagle Brook Church, 2401 East Buffalo St.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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