Gift wrap from weeks of celebrations has been tossed. Our house is in relatively good order. Traffic to work remains temporarily (and blessedly) light.
It’s time, thus, to revisit one of my favorite annual traditions: reviewing a year’s worth of columns to catch up with folks whose stories I’ve told here. This year is unusual, because a few updates reach back to columns I wrote long ago. That’s the sweetness of a job like this. People keep in touch to share their good news, and their sorrows, too.
I begin with thanks to you, readers, for stepping up, as you always do in amazing ways.
Jessica Rogers, the gregarious executive director of Connections to Independence (C2i), has received about $23,000 in donations, plus “an awesome volunteer,” and a 2017 15-person van, paid for by a corporate donor. Her organization provides stability and independent living skills to youths aging out of foster care.
Low-income women busting through glass ceilings, and building entire heating systems, got a massive boost when a donor gave Dunwoody’s Women in Technical Careers (WITC) a $100,000 infusion in November.
Project Teddy Bear was inundated with yarn for inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minn. The men crochet delightful animals for sick children. Other correctional institutions have expressed interest in the program, launched by University of Minnesota honors students.
Hanadi Chehabeddine continues to build bridges as a speaker and diversity trainer on Muslim issues. “Unity comes with understanding and empathy,” said Chehabeddine, who launched her own company, Hanadi SBC, this year. “That’s what I try to accomplish by telling my story as a Muslim in America.”
Peter Izmirian moved to South Dakota, but the 68-year-old still returns regularly to the Twin Cities to donate platelets. Izmirian told me he donates blood because he wants to give back, despite being on a limited income. He donated his 75th gallon with Memorial Blood Centers on Nov. 1.
Joanne Labernik called with the happy news that seniors distraught over the closing of the Skyway Senior Center in March have not one, but two places to call home-away-from-home. Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Downtown Central Library will together operate a senior center every morning, Monday through Thursday, starting in March. Westminster will host in its newly opened wing on Tuesday and Thursday; the library on Monday and Wednesday.
Pickle maven Doris Rubenstein’s consciousness-raising effort regarding the Minnesota State Fair Creative Activities food competition continues. “A Pickle,” the play based on her fight for kosher dill justice, will be performed Jan. 22 at the St. Louis Park Sabes Jewish Community Center during its Twin Cities Jewish Humor Fest.
I was disappointed to hear that writer and feminist Brenda Ueland’s home in southwest Minneapolis did not avoid demolition, despite a robust preservation effort by many. A three-story condo is being considered for the site. Perhaps the developer will at least nod to her literary contributions with a Little Free Library posted outside.
As I write this, it does look like alimony deductions will be going away in the massive tax overhaul, but the effective date has been pushed back by a year to Dec. 31, 2018. While there may be some ability to preserve deductibility for pre-existing obligations modified after that date, this shortsighted change is likely to create even more fighting by couples facing this difficult passage.
I’m still hearing your opinions on whether or not one should take off shoes when entering another’s home. Thank goodness I found a way to distract you from politics! Most readers say they do de-shoe because it’s polite; others noted that this is standard in many other countries. But my favorite e-mail came from a reader recalling a party where she cleaned off her shoes, but kept them on, only to be followed around all evening by the host, wiping the floor with a paper towel after every step she took. Needless to say, she’ll be finding other parties.
We lost some quiet heroes this year. Among them is educator Elizabeth G. “Betty” Johnson, to whom I turned for decades when I wrote about the challenges and joys of raising gifted children. Johnson, who devoted 30 years to the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented, was 86.
Robert B. Dalton, 94, taught elementary education in Minneapolis for 30 years, officially at least. In truth, he never stopped teaching. I met charming Dalton in 2011 when we featured him and his former student, Ann Hinrichs, in “Duets,” a feature celebrating unique friendships. There was nobody like her sixth-grade teacher, Hinrichs said, noting that the two became lifelong friends, meeting regularly for coffee and cream-filled Bismarcks.
“He led me on a path of discovery in that one single year that would forever affect my life.” Dalton helped the shy girl perform in front of a live audience as “Raggedy Rose,” and taught her how to make a box camera, which led to her passion for photography. On her wedding day years later, he pulled from his basement filing cabinet a poem she’d written in his class. “He remembered and treasured his students,” she said. Let’s all remember and treasure the teachers in our lives.
Kevin Johnson was ecstatic to tell me that his two-year campaign to save the Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled paid off for “all our disabled loved ones,” and one person in particular. His buddy, Kirk Williams, a U.S. Navy veteran with multiple sclerosis, accompanied the Johnsons to the 6.8-acre Canadian resort for years before it abruptly shut down. Johnson and his wife, Lorie, created a Facebook campaign, wrote editorials and collected more than 29,000 signatures to get the resort reopened. Johnson felt urgency to do so as Williams’ health declined. But it was Johnson who died suddenly Sept. 29 of a major stroke. He was 59. Williams moved to a foster home run by veterans. And a “Kevin’s Road to Paradise” ramp will be installed at the resort. Heartbroken Lorie calls it “a beautiful ending.”
I’m going to leave you with leftovers. After I shared my concern with how wasteful we’ve become with food, a reader sent me this meaningful food for thought. “When I buy food over the counter,” he wrote (requesting anonymity), “I say thank you to the vendor because I know how wonderful it is that I live and buy in a country where food is plentiful and affordable and tasteful and healthy and politely served to me by someone working at little more than minimum wage. I also thank the person who sells me affordable clothes that look good, drugs that are pure and that work, a car we use all the time, and a house of worship in which I am welcome.”
I can’t top that, so I’ll just say thank you for your immeasurable generosity to others in our community. Thanks, too, for reading the Star Tribune (in any form you choose) and for writing to me. A healthy, happy and safe New Year to all.