Sonya Goins and Mark Baker crossed paths on a daily basis when they worked at WCCO-TV, but their relationship was strictly professional.
“We never went out for lunch or had a beer,” said Goins. “It’s a fast-paced environment, and we didn’t have time for those ‘How are your kids, how’s your dog?’ conversations.”
When Goins left the station in 2013, she and Baker became Facebook friends. It was a casual connection that has gone on to create a legacy that will benefit Minnesota children who live with chronic illness.
When Baker died of cancer last year at age 56, he surprised Goins by leaving a bequest to her. Now his former co-worker is using the money to pay his generosity forward.
“It’s funny how you never know who’s going to be important in your life,” Goins said.
Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease while in college, Goins, now 53, has had “more surgeries than I can count,” and lives with the pain of her autoimmune disorder. Despite her struggles, she’s known for her inexhaustible blend of grit and gratitude.
“I have a girlfriend who called me a Pollyanna. I don’t care; this is what I need to get through the day,” said the divorced mother of three.
For years, she has started her day with prayer and affirmations. A few years ago, she began posting daily upbeat messages on Facebook to help herself and others face challenges in their lives.
Baker posted encouraging messages on Goins’ Facebook page and, on several occasions, kicked in $25 pledges for fundraising runs that Goins took to build awareness about Crohn’s disease and generate money for research.
When Baker was diagnosed with cancer, Goins’ posts moved him deeply, something he shared with Goins on Facebook.
“He was in my heart when I put my affirmations up after he told me what they meant to him,” she said.
Within a month of Baker’s death, Goins learned that Baker had changed his will shortly before his death, donating $7,200 to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in Goins’ name.
“I was at work and I had to sit down, then I started crying,” said Goins, an on-camera reporter at CCX Media, a community television station in Brooklyn Park. “As sick as he was, he was thinking of me. I was just blown away.”
Goins is allocating some of Baker’s gift for scholarships to Camp Oasis, a summer camp for Minnesota children who live with inflammatory bowel and digestive diseases.
“The camp costs $400 a week, so we can send 10 kids for free,” she said. “That cost is a hardship for so many families who already have to pay for expensive medicines.”
She also built on Baker’s donation, generating an additional $3,000 through various fundraisers.
Goins will tap Baker’s donation to pay the entry fee for a fundraising half-marathon this summer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on behalf of the foundation.
“I will be thinking of Mark with every step I take,” she said. “His gift has kept me inspired and motivated me to help more people. I used to be embarrassed to talk about my Crohn’s, but I have to do it to honor him and pay it forward.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.