Guest column: Saying a long Minnesota goodbye

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 13, 2002

We have just said &uot;good-bye&uot; to our German exchange student, Claudia, who lived with us for the school year. It was a great experience, as was the time when we had her brother, Christian, four years ago.

What I want to do is to praise our Albert Lea kids for making Claudia’s stay here so enjoyable. She played volleyball and the coach and the team made her so welcome. The members on that team became her best friends while she was here. In fact, two of our busiest gals in high school are Beth Kolling and Juliana Peterson &045; Beth picked Claudia up for school every morning and Juliana brought her home. The bus goes right past our home, but it is not &uot;cool&uot; to ride a bus when one is 17.

The week Claudia was leaving she had invitations for breakfast and lunch every day. On the final day when she left for Germany, her friends started coming to our house early in the morning &045; some had practices of band, orchestra or athletics and they wanted to say &uot;good-bye.&uot; The kids trickled in all day long &045; they sat around the kitchen table and reminisced. One brought her a poem written on a Styrofoam meat tray, another brought her a crown from Burger King with &uot;Princess Claudia&uot; written across the top. They had a memory book for her including all of the events they had done together.

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Claudia’s birthday is on Sept. 4, and she had not met any kids yet when her birthday arrived, so in the middle of the year they had a surprise 1/2 birthday party for her. She still talks about the night Randy Rugroden brought his sound equipment to our church basement so she could fulfill a dream to try line dancing. And, of course, her autographed volleyball and her Tiger pillow she will always cherish. All of these things were so special to her.

Her parents phoned her every weekend and she always had lots of news to tell them about and they were so comforted by the way the kids &uot;took her in.&uot; Claudia shared with us that she was so mixed up the day she was leaving Germany to come here &045; that maybe she shouldn’t go and leave her family and friends. On the day she was to leave here, tears ran down her cheeks as she said, &uot;Now I don’t want to leave all who I have met here.&uot; When it got to be 5 p.m., we practically had to scoop her friends off of our front steps so we could get to the plane on time. Even some of the mothers came &045; Albert Lea is a wonderful place to live!

Claudia is a straight A student, speaks fluent English, in fact she was invited to speak at some of the programs in nursing homes, various clubs in town, and some of them even gave her a monetary gift, so we kidded her she was now a professional speaker in the U.S. One of the reasons she wanted to come here was so she could use her English. She took part in everything we did. She joined us with our friends, she went to church with us every Sunday, helped with Sunday School, even sang a solo with the choir at Christmas time when she sang &uot;Silent Night&uot; in German. She volunteered at the hospital every Sunday afternoon and she was proud to go back with an award pin she received as a Junior Volunteer. She had also helped at the hospital Christmas party and sometimes she tagged along with me when I called on shut-ins from our church. She fit right into our big family on all of our holidays and our two little grandsons, Beau and Jacob, who are ages two and five, are now missing her desperately. Claudia garbaged her worn out tennis shoes in which she had explored Albert Lea, and Beau found them and planted &uot;Forget-me-nots&uot; in them and placed them in his little garden in our back yard.

We noticed the tragedy of Sept. 11 really caused Claudia anxiety. We took her to a couple of church services that were offered that night and the next day and we were so glad they were available. She called home and her father told her the churches were full there as they prayed for us, Germany has gorgeous churches but people just do not attend church there. They are empty except for tourists. Claudia’s father said there were over 3,000 people in one church on the night of Sept. 11 (some sitting on the floor), and they were also making long human chains of hands in prayer for the U.S. Claudia later wrote a letter to our president telling him she thought he handled the situation very well. We were so thrilled when she received a response from President Bush thanking her for her letter, telling her he was glad she had come to the U.S. and sent greetings from his wife, Laura.

It was tough to say &uot;good-bye&uot; to someone we really learned to love in a year. We have been to Claudia’s home in Germany and her parents have been here too. We are so grateful to have this extended family of wonderful people. We have had two great experiences with exchange students with Claudia and Christian and again we want to thank the people in the community, the school system and all who made Claudia’s stay a memorable one. We enjoyed being host parents to two great kids but we won’t do it again, we are too old to take another sad &uot;Long Minnesota Good-bye.”