Nancy VanderWaerdt, 1949-2016

Published 9:00 am Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nancy VanderWaerdt, passed away from Alzheimer’s disease on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, with her son, Gregg, lying by her side while they listened to Mozart. A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church in Albert Lea. Friends may visit with family from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Bonnerup Funeral Service and one hour before services at the church.

Nancy was born Jan. 3, 1949, in Madison, South Dakota, to Dean and Janet Mehlum. Nancy had a wonderful childhood in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Nancy spent her early childhood years perfecting her baton twirling routine. Nancy’s two younger sisters, Jane and Marcy, were quite annoyed that Nancy used her practicing excuse to get out of helping them do the dishes. Nancy was always sporting new, white tennis shoes from Sears because they were guaranteed to not wear out, but they always did as Nancy would wear a hole in them from spinning. Nancy’s teachers were quite concerned about all the bruises on Nancy’s back due to her perfecting the move of catching her baton behind her back. Luckily, Dean and Janet were cleared and Nancy spent her teenage years twirling for band competitions and beauty pageants.

Nancy VanderWaerdt

Nancy VanderWaerdt

In high school Nancy won Miss Teenage South Dakota. Nancy began her college career at the University of Reno and in 1969, became Miss Reno and was first runner-up in the Miss Nevada contest. Nancy missed her family and moved back to South Dakota to complete her education and graduated from Augustana College in 1971.

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Nancy started her career working in the high school special education program in Rock Rapids, where she met and married Richard VanderWaerdt. They eventually settled in Fairmont, where Nancy worked in the early childhood education program and had one child, Gregg. Nancy changed careers to work for State Farm Insurance, which brought them to Albert Lea.

Nancy was an active member of Christ Episcopal Church in Albert Lea. Nancy was a tireless community leader and volunteered at her church and the school district, where she worked with the fifth-grade classroom project Charlie Program, mentored middle-school students with their reading and served on the teacher of the year committee. Nancy served as a member of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, Albert Lea Business and Professional Women’s Group, PEO Chapter BK and the Lions Club. In addition, she served as a past chairperson of the Riverland Community College Foundation and board of directors, the Albert Lea Family YMCA board of directors, campaign chairwoman of the United Way, and the Circle of Parents organization. For her service Nancy received the Citizen of the Year Award on May 16, 2005, at Riverland College. Nancy’s son, Gregg, believes she broke the record for having her picture placed in the Albert Lea Tribune. Nancy summed up her feelings to helping others with an Albert Einstein quote that she learned years ago: “Service is the rent we pay for our time here on earth.”

Nancy was a State Farm insurance agent in Albert Lea for over 30 years. Nancy truly loved serving her clients and had a flourishing business. Nancy’s oldest employee, Amy, is considered a family member as she worked and grew their business with Nancy for 28 years. Nancy loved State Farm, and everyone at State Farm loved Nancy. Nancy traveled around the world with her colleagues and formed numerous strong and lasting friendships. 

Nancy’s son, Gregg traveled, with her to State Farm trips in Hawaii, Spain, Morocco, Las Vegas and Florida, and is kicking himself — he thought he was too busy to attend the other 100-plus trips she went on.

As impressive as this is sounding, Nancy’s greatest accomplishment to date is when she won the best mother in the history of the world award for her tireless devotion to her son, Gregg. Nancy attended every sporting event, band concert and activity he was involved in throughout his education in Albert Lea, which continued when he attended St. Olaf College. Nancy woke up at 5:45 a.m. to drive Gregg to morning swim practices and was always home to make supper and go for their cherished nightly walk by the lake. Nancy adored her grandchildren Ethan and Isaac, as well, and loved watching them swim, play football, baseball and attend their band concerts. Nancy absolutely beamed when talking to her friends and relatives about Gregg, Ethan and Isaac. Nancy spent the last several years of her life in Rochester with her son, grandchildren and dogs Izzy and Oscar, whom were often found lying on her lap or begging for food. Nancy enjoyed taking the dogs for walks and enjoyed a more relaxed life.

In her short time in Rochester, Nancy frequented the senior center and joined their biking club. Nancy was runner up Ms. Senior Minnesota in 2014, but it was an inside job/robbery to anyone in attendance. Nancy’s baton twirling simply blew away the competition. Nancy enjoyed going to parades across Minnesota representing Ms. Senior Minnesota. When Nancy’s Alzheimer’s became more advanced, she received care from many people. Gregg would like to thank everyone who kept Nancy safe at his home including his neighbors, Ethan and Isaac, all the caregivers at Home Instead, Barb, Kendal, Moriah for her help and for finding others to help, Carrie, Kendra, Casey, Grandma Jackie, all the nurses at Sanford Tracy, Denise, the caregivers at Cottagewood nursing home, and the wonderful hospice staff at Heartland. 

Nancy is survived by her mother, Janet Mehlum; her sisters Jane Uzzell and Marcy Cook; her son, Gregg; grandchildren Ethan and Isaac VanderWaerdt; and dogs Izzy and Oscar. 

She is preceded in death by her father, Dean Mehlum; and husband, Richard VanderWaerdt.

Instead of a burial Nancy will be donating a memorial park bench by Fountain Lake so friends and family can visit her and enjoy the view. Condolences may be sent to 5512 Leslie Lane SW, Rochester, MN 55902.  In lieu of flowers the family asks that if you make a donation to write it out for Alzheimer’s research. Nancy’s son, Gregg, is planning to continue the tradition of helping others by running a charity fundraiser at the New York City marathon in 2017.   

Finally, the family asks that in honor of Nancy that you participate in some the things she was so passionate about. Read to a child, volunteer to help your community, become a mentor or help out a friend. Lastly, please write your Congressman and ask for them to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. Nobody as wonderful as Nancy should pass away so early, from such a terrible disease, when they clearly have so much more to give to the world.