Mary Touve jokes that Rose Sobleski fired her after two years as Rose’s caregiver. In fact, Rose promoted Mary — to best friend. For 30 years, Mary, 53, and Rose, 60, have traveled, watched sports and shared countless family celebrations. Mary’s 17-year-old daughter, Dalee, is Rose’s godchild — and is training to be Rose’s next care attendant. Rose isn’t like family. She is family.

“I’ve shared with her things I haven’t shared with anyone else,” says Mary, an insurance agent with Humana. “Mary has taught me so much about friendship,” Rose adds, “just knowing she’s there to support me.” The 12th of 18 children, Rose once navigated life without this gracious safety net.

At 16, Rose suffered a brain aneurysm at her brother’s baseball game in Petoskey, Mich. Her father rushed her to the hospital, but her voice already had been permanently damaged. Limited to whispering and lip-reading, and using a wheelchair, Rose saw a dim future in her tiny hometown.

At 27, “wanting more for myself,” Rose moved to Twin Cities-based Courage Center. After 11 months, she found an apartment. Mary, of Rogers, was studying speech communications at the University of Minnesota when she answered an ad for a care attendant. Mary got Rose up and showered, prepared meals and bought groceries. She lifted lightweight Rose into her car and took her to softball games, where Mary pitched for a city league. Mary also played pool for a team named Rose’s Thorns. “She’d tell me which ball to shoot at,” Mary says, “and I’d make it.”

Mary moved on job-wise, but their friendship stuck. Vikings games, church events, even a cruise where Rose dove under water to snorkel, nothing was off-limits. For Rose’s 60th birthday, Mary, Dalee and Mary’s 15-year-old son, Adam, threw her a surprise party.

Rose gives back in many ways, despite a limited income. Annually on Dalee’s birthday, Rose has red roses delivered. She helps support her current attendant’s little girl.

“A person never knows who you’re going to learn from,” says Mary’s father, Jim, watching from his Robbinsdale kitchen during a raucous family card game recently. He and wife, June, are grandparents to 19 grandchildren, all of whom were fully capable of getting “a little obnoxious at certain ages,” Jim says. Never with Rose. “They’re very humble around her, willing to help her.” Rose long ago made peace with her limitations, thanks to a strong faith in God — and a God-sent friend. Mary agrees. “We have often argued about who has been more blessed.” □