Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mourning Hazel and Isaiah, siblings who perished in a rural Minnesota house fire December 12, 2013

THE WORDS WRENCH at my heart as I read them. Words of consolation from family and friends attempting to comfort Matt and Bernadette Thooft, who lost two of their children in a house fire on Wednesday, December 4, near Lucan in my native southwestern Minnesota.

Anita Schoniger comments on the Stephens Funeral Service obituary page for the Thooft children: Auntie Nut loves you to the moon and back Miss Hazel Ann and my little Isaiah.

Hazel, 7, and Isaiah, 4, died in the fire.

Beautiful babies…special angels…a happy little boy with a big smile…

A mother who’s lost a child writes: People say time heals all wounds, but honestly in this situation I’ve learned that time doesn’t heal that empty feeling you have in your heart, it just makes each day easier to get out of bed.

Such heartfelt words written by those who knew, or didn’t know, Hazel and Isaiah, their parents and five siblings, Zachary, 11; Augustus, Hazel’s twin; Maxwell and Abigail, both 4; and Beatrice Grace, 2.

On Friday, the lives of Hazel and Isaiah will be remembered and celebrated at funeral services set for 10:30 a.m. at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Wabasso. Visitation is scheduled at the church for 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday and for an hour prior to services Friday.

Hazel Thooft

Hazel Thooft

Reading the obituaries of these two siblings, I smile at the independence of Hazel, who often wore mismatched outfits and several shirts at a time. This St. Anne’s Catholic School second grader liked doing things her own way, embraced art and dancing and singing. She loved school and reading and, it seems to me, simply being among people.

Isaiah Thooft

Isaiah Thooft

Her younger brother Isaiah, likewise, loved people and laughter and possessed a bit of a mischievous streak. You can see that in his wide grin, in the revelation that this Wabasso Public School preschooler liked to play tricks on others. He, too, enjoyed books and several times a week visited the library. A boy after my own heart, appreciating the written word.

Both children, clearly, were outgoing and loved.

I cannot imagine a grief as deep as losing a child.

I take comfort in knowing that the Thooft family possesses a deep faith in God. It is that faith and the support of family, friends and strangers, and of the small communities of southwestern Minnesota, which will carry them through their grief.

Already, the Thoofts have received an outpouring of financial and emotional support via Giveforward accounts set up to assist them. As of early Wednesday evening, 232 donations totaling around $15,000 had been made to the family. First Independent Bank of Lucan and the United Way of Southwest Minnesota are also accepting donations. Click here to learn details about how you can donate.

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JUST A NOTE: The Thoofts own two businesses, Matt’s Frame Repair and The Store (which I blogged about in March), in my hometown of Vesta. That is among the reasons this tragedy touches me personally. According to an update posted on The Store Facebook page yesterday morning, the combination thrift and grocery store which Bernadette ran solo will remain closed until further notice.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo credit: Stephens Funeral Service

 

How you can assist two families in need after a tragic southwestern Minnesota fire December 6, 2013

2:15 P.M. FRIDAY, UPDATE TWO: The two children who died in the house fire Wednesday afternoon near Lucan have been identified by a family friend as Hazel Thooft, 7, and her brother, Isaiah, 4, according to a just-published story in The Minneapolis Star Tribune. (To read that story, click here.) Hazel was a second grader at St. Anne’s Catholic School in Wabasso and Isaiah attended preschool in the Wabasso School District.

The Wabasso Public School District is where I attended school in grades 9-12.

The remainder of this post was written this morning with information on benefit funds also just updated.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an update to my post about a house fire outside of Lucan in Redwood County in rural southwestern Minnesota which claimed the lives of two children Wednesday afternoon and also seriously injured a firefighter from my hometown of Vesta. Click here to read my initial story.

THE BODY OF A SECOND CHILD, as yet unidentified, was recovered late Thursday afternoon from the ruins of the Bernadette and Matt Thooft home, according to numerous news reports. Authorities found the first child’s body late Wednesday. Their names and ages have not yet been released.

Bernadette and Matt and several children escaped the fire.

A Vesta firefighter, Neal Hansen, remains hospitalized with serious leg injuries after he slipped on ice and was run over by a fire truck.

Online fundraising sites have now been established to raise monies for the Thooft and Hansen families.

Giveforward Thooft family - Copy

Via the Giveforward website, you can support the Thoofts either at Thooft Family Fund (click here) with a $25,000 goal or at Lucan Family loss from house fire (click here) with a $30,000 goal. As of this update, $8,030 have been raised.

First Independent Bank of Lucan has established a fund to collect monetary donations for the Thooft family. Checks should be made payable to and sent to the following address: Matt & Bernadette Thooft Benefit, P.O. Box 138, Lucan, MN. 56255. Donations may also be made in person at First Independent Bank locations in Lucan, Marshall (main bank and at Walmart location), Russell, Ruthton, Balaton, Wood Lake, Beardsley and Hanley Falls. Call (888) 747-2214 or email rhillesheim@fibmn.com for more information.

The United Way of Southwest Minnesota, 109 South 5th St., Suite 300, Marshall, MN., 56258, is also helping the Thooft family. The organization is accepting donations of gift cards and of clothing, toiletries and non-perishable food items. Additionally, the family will need furniture. Contact the United Way with information on the furniture you have available. When the family is ready to accept that furniture, volunteers will pick up and deliver the items. Email unitedway@unitedwayswmn.org or call (507) 929-2273.

The American Red Cross assisted the family with immediate needs, too.

Giveforward Hansen family - Copy

Fundraising efforts also continue online at Giveforward for the injured Vesta volunteer firefighter at Neal Hansen Benefit. Click here to help Neal and Tiffany, the parents of a two-year-old son. The campaign, as of this update, has raised $4,530, surpassing its $3,000 goal.

This tragedy has weighed heavy on my heart. I met the Thooft family in March when I stopped at Bernadette’s new business, The Store, a combination thrift shop and grocery store in my hometown of Vesta, population around 320. New businesses do not open all that often in this rural community, so I was excited and blogged about this in my post, “Little General Store on the Prairie”. (Click here to read.) Right next door, Bernadette’s husband runs Matt’s Frame Repair.

I was especially delighted to meet Bernadette, a woman with a big heart. I instantly warmed to her outgoing personality and sense of humor. She affectionately dubbed her seven children “the hoodlums” in the most loving way. Several of the youngest kids were showing off for me and posing for photos while I interviewed Bernadette. Now, to think…

Please, give to either/both of these families if you can and support them in prayer. Also, spread the word via social media.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Life can change in an instant”: A Minnesota family in need January 10, 2013

IT IS THE MOMENT we all fear—the late night phone call, the unexpected knock on the door.

For Nina Hedin, a young mother from Glencoe whom I highlighted in a magazine feature about 10 Minnesota bloggers, fear became reality on Saturday afternoon. Her husband, Tom, was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident.

Photo of Nina Hedin published in Minnesota Moments, winter 2012 issue.

I got to know Nina about a year ago, when she was among 10 Minnesota bloggers highlighted in a feature I wrote for Minnesota Moments magazine. This photo of Nina published in that winter 2012 story.

Here then, in Nina’s words, is the beginning of her family’s new reality:

I’ve told this story so many times over the last two days that the words are flying out of my fingers and onto this computer faster than I am thinking them.

Saturday, January 5, Tom left after lunch to ride snowmobile a little bit; he was going to visit a friend just outside of town. Around 3 pm he had still not returned and he had not sent any messages or called. This was VERY unusual for Tom and I was worried. Normally he’ll be out for 30-45 minutes and always, ALWAYS sends me random text messages.

I called friends that Tom sometimes rides with to ask if he had been by.

I hopped online to see if he used our check card anywhere; maybe he stopped for something to eat or there would be another clue.

At 4:30 pm there was a loud knock at the door. My stomach dropped. I knew it would not be good. I knew it. The county sheriff told me that Tom was in an accident and was to be airlifted to HCMC.

Fear, panic, adrenaline…

Nina and Tom Hedin with Jack and June.

Nina and Tom Hedin with Jack and June.

This, dear readers, breaks my heart. Even though I’ve never met Nina or her family, I remained connected to Nina after writing that initial magazine feature (which you can read by clicking here). I continued reading her The Adventures of Artsy Nina blog and we exchanged occasional emails. She is a vivacious, creative (she also runs two Etsy shops, Camp Honeybelle and Nina Baran Upcycled Vintage Jewelry)  and caring individual with a delightful sense of humor.

So when the call went out to Nina’s circle of blogging friends to share the Hedins’ story, I didn’t even have to consider. Helping someone in need, especially a friend, is the right thing to do. And the family needs assistance, both financially and in prayer.

Blogging about an evening out with her husband in early December, Nina wrote:  "We held hands and ran the short block home through the first snow fall of the season, laughing and enjoying the end of a good night."

Blogging about an evening out with her husband in early December, Nina wrote: “We held hands and ran the short block home through the first snow fall of the season, laughing and enjoying the end of a good night.”

Here again, in Nina’s words, are the injuries her beloved Tom suffered:

Injuries listed from top to bottom; brain hemorrhage and complications, fractured orbital (eye) socket, facial lacerations, fractured T6 vertebrae, broken and dislocated right wrist, broken left elbow and fractured upper arm, left knee cap broken with severed tendon and puncture wound, right knee ligament injury.

He faces a long, hard road to recovery. As of yet we are unsure of the extent of damage to the brain, and the recovery time/therapy needed for his limbs and back will take months.

A recent photo of Tom with Jack and June.

A recent photo of Tom with Jack and June.

You can only imagine the insurmountable medical bills this couple in their early 30s, with two children, Jack, 3, and seven-month-old June, will face. An online “Help for Tom Hedin” account has been set up at GiveForward to assist the family with mounting medical and day-to-day expenses. The goal is to raise $100,000 by March 9.

Please consider offering your financial support by clicking here. Together we can make a difference and ease some of this family’s financial worries. Perhaps your friends, church group, family, co-workers, card club, coffee group, etc., can join efforts to collect monies for the Hedins. Every dollar, whether ten or 500, helps.

Because Tom has been with his current employer for only six months, he does not qualify for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act. He has been his family’s main source of financial support.

Please also pray for the Hedin family and their medical team. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer.

Tom with Jack and June at Halloween.

Tom with Jack and June at Halloween.

In closing, let’s listen to Nina one last time with this excerpt from her January 8 blog post, “Life Can Change in an Instant”:

It’s a cliche. You hear it all the time, think it some of the time, but you don’t really get it until something happens to you and yours.

Life as you know it can change in an instant.

Hug your kids, your husband, your mom, your dad, your neighbor, your friend. You never, ever know what that next moment might bring.

TO OFFER WORDS of encouragement and support and/or to read the latest updates on Tom’s condition, visit his CaringBridge website by clicking here.

NINA’S BLOGGER CIRCLE of friends is already posting her family’s story. Click here to read a post by Montana resident and former Minnesotan Bernie at One Mixed Bag.

Then click here to read a post by Beth Ann from Iowa at It’s Just Life. For every comment posted to her blog during January and February, Beth Ann is donating 50 cents to the Hedin family for medical expenses. This is part of Beth Ann’s ongoing “Comments for a Cause” campaign. So simply by commenting on any of Beth Ann’s posts during the next two months, you will be helping Tom, Nina, Jack and June.

© Text and photos copyright of Audrey Kletscher Helbling and Nina Hedin
Photos courtesy of Nina Hedin