Celebrate unsung heroes: Readers submit letters about people who inspire them

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Sister has a bond with patients beyond words

Unsung hero: Jazmin Johnson.

I grew up watching my sister go from a CNA, to a LPN. Jazmin is now in her last semester of the RN program. The road in this journey hasn’t been easy for her, but never once have I seen her give up. She inspires me every day to pursue my career in the nursing field as well. Watching her bond with her patient is something that goes beyond my words because of how she always puts them and their care first! She’s a true super hero.

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— Nominated by Ana Hernandez of Hayward


Teacher changed son’s life for better

My unsung hero is LaChelle Sandon, a teacher at Lakeview school. LaChelle was my son, Liam’s, teacher for almost two years. Through the Covid shutdown she was 100% completely on his side and supportive despite reprimands for being too involved. I am a single mother of seven children and had six boys in the home, schooling them alone. LaChelle had begun teaching my son in the options classroom after he could no longer be in the regular classrooms at Halverson, and she was the first person to ever truly get his personality and issues completely. She was always so understanding of our struggles, and when we began homeschooling, she went above and beyond what she was expected to do and even bent a few rules to help out with some household problems that were preventing my ability to be totally present for my kids. She cares so much about all the children who come through her classroom, takes it all really to heart and those kids matter to her more than any other teacher I’ve ever met in my entire life. I had a house fire and I no longer live in Freeborn County, and she still connects with us and checks in on my son and the rest of my kids frequently. I can’t think that there is another teacher with more heart who takes her job more seriously, and her job has to be one of the most difficult teaching jobs as she is in the classroom exclusively for children who have behavioral issues and learning disabilities with very little support because there’s such a shortage of teachers and paras in her field. When she is low on resources, she takes it out of her own pocket. She does her best to work within the restrictions of the administration, and your pain as a parent is her pain. Your struggles are her struggles, and she always does everything she can in and outside the school to support the parent and the family. If this woman is not an unsung hero in Freeborn County and Albert Lea school district, I can’t think of who is. This woman has never received the praise that she deserves, and even though no one notices, she continues on because she takes it all to heart. It matters to her on a deep level, and I can truly say that because of our relationship with her in the educational system, she changed our life and prevented the possible institutionalization of my son by her stellar performance on and off the job. LaChelle Sandon is and always will be the unsung hero of any child in the options classrooms.

— Nominated by Amber Oakland 


Co-worker is understanding, empathetic

I’d like to nominate my co-worker Analynn Peterson as an unsung hero in our community. I work as a bank teller with Analynn at Security Bank.

Analynn and her husband, Scott, teach ATV safety each year to young riders and volunteer at the state park. Good people, good community members. But I’m mainly writing to comment on what a sweet and patient bank teller Analynn is. She takes her time to listen to and help our customers. She often puts folks at ease with kind words, a welcome smile and a good laugh. She goes out of her way to accommodate people, more so than the job calls for.  

Analynn is also an amazing co-worker and friend, generously helping co-workers out by mending and tailoring clothing and blankets, and never asks for anything in return. She’s an understanding and empathetic listener and brightens our office with her great sense of humor and oh so good cooking skills. 

I hope you’ll consider recognizing my kind and humble friend Analynn. She truly deserves it. 

Thank you.

— Nominated by Joanna Dye  


To know this woman is to love her

I would like to nominate Wanda Wangsness. She was my son’s kindergarten Sunday school teacher and made him enjoy every moment.  She also works at St. John’s and goes above and beyond for the residents.  To know Wanda is to love her. She is a hero in our books!

— Nominated by Tammy Kesler of Albert Lea


Mother is a compassionate caregiver

My mom, Diane Stollard, is very much an unsung hero. My father was diagnosed with ALS in January and passed away in June. My dad’s disease progressed very quickly, and my mom cared for him at home. We never once heard her complain. She was always so busy worrying about everyone else’s feelings and how we might be doing with it all. During that time she had kidney surgery. She quickly came home and barely took time for herself. Her kindness, compassion, selflessness, devotion and love completely have me in awe. My mom is a retired nurse who worked in the community starting at Good Sam, then Naeve Hospital and ended her career at Albert Lea Medical Center. Many past patients continuously have such wonderful stories about my mom and what an amazing nurse and friend she was to them. It makes me very proud of her and extremely proud to be her daughter.

Thank you.

— Nominated by Tara Richards 


Contributions to early childhood development are lasting

“Mom, can we PLEASE go to Wende’s today?”

Wende Taylor has made a huge difference in not only my own life but in hundreds of lives within our community. This mom of three has nurtured more than 140 children to become strong individuals within our community from a very young age. For the past 25 years, she’s set the bar for day care in Freeborn County. Home Away From Home Daycare has more than lived up to the name. She makes kids feel comfortable, supported and ready to take on this big old world on their own unique terms. Wende’s kids are so well prepared for preschool and kindergarten that teachers have even remarked, “she’s one of Wende’s kids isn’t she?” 

Her level of commitment and compassion to her kiddos goes well beyond child  care. Many of her day care families become like family. She’ll probably set some sort of record for being invited to more graduations and weddings than anyone ever. That’s how deeply her connection with her day care kids goes. It’s oftentimes an everlasting bond built on trust, discipline and most importantly, love. 

“She is one of the most loving and generous people I know! She is so caring toward others and will do anything and everything for them! She will always put them first! She always makes everyone around her happy — she lights up a room when she walks in! She is so fun and playful and can put a smile on anyone’s face! I have so many just amazing, wonderful memories with Wende! I love her so much! And she deserves everything after everything she does for everyone!”

She’s a woman of action even when it comes to furry friends, rescuing many stray cats over the years, along with building shelters and providing food for strays in the community. 

For more than 10 years she helped spearhead a charity golf tournament with all the proceeds going to cancer research. 

In her spare time, she befriended a resident at St. John’s, whom she met on a walk visiting the eagles. 

Oh, and if you’ve had a chance to try her chili, that is award-winning in itself. “She makes the best chili in the whole wide world.”

Early childhood development is a cornerstone of a strong community, and her contributions here are well overdue of appreciation.

“She is one of the most selfless, kind-hearted people I’ve ever known.”

“Wende is the best!”

— Submitted by Taylor Friehl of St. Louis and friends of Taylor in Albert Lea


Employee’s work helps ensure community well-being

Unsung hero: Dustin White, foreman at the city of Albert Lea’s Wastewater Treatment Plant

“Dustin is one of the quietest employees, but his works speaks for itself,” says Brandon Huston, his supervisor and superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant.

Wastewater treatment is a vital service for the residents and businesses of Albert Lea, with staff at the treatment plant ensuring operations run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year, no matter the conditions. The Albert Lea plant processes 3.5 million gallons of wastewater on average per day, with wastewater flowing to it through 127 miles of pipe and 23 pumping stations. This is where all the wastewater — from sinks, bathtubs, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers and more in the city — goes for cleanup before being discharged to the Shell Rock River.

Knowing the plant inside and out, Dustin takes the lead on maintenance projects, can fix almost anything in the plant and troubleshoots electrical issues. He also comes up with practical ideas to complete projects in a timely fashion. He has been with the city since 2009.

On weekends, Dustin willingly takes calls from his fellow plant operators needing assistance, with no additional pay.

He maintains the required licensure for his position, including a Class A Commercial Driver’s License and Class B Wastewater Operator License. In addition to the required licenses, he obtained the state’s Type 4 Biosolids License for applying waste material to land and is setting his sights on the Class A wastewater license.

By going above and beyond in his duties in wastewater treatment, Dustin, along with his co-operators, helps ensure the community’s health and well-being.

— Nominated by city of Albert Lea staff


Jack Frost Closet founder is helping to fill a need

I would like to nominate Carol Jolly for the unsung heroes.

Carol Jolly started Jack Frost Closet six years ago. (Over 6,000 have been helped — new number to come in when they finish in January).  She saw the need to help our community members in need. (She also started this while at the vocational school for a DECA project).  She recruited her friend Corrine Anderson to help her. I have seen firsthand the passion, dedication and love that has gone into this countywide project. Their site opens in November and closes in February, and they are open two days a week! It is her life mission! She works with our smaller county communities to make sure nobody is left out. Every person who comes into Jack Frost Closet is treated with the  utmost respect and compassion.  They may come in with only flip flops as shoes, and they leave with a coat,  coordinating scarf, mittens, boots and even socks or a blanket! They spend time with each person or family to make them feel special and welcome. It feels more like a store than a give away site. Many don’t speak our language, and yet Carol finds a way to communicate with them.

Jack Frost Closet is a project of ShineFest, a nonprofit under AZ One and has received funding from the Golden K Kiwanis Club. She has received funding and new coats and handmade quilts from many individuals, groups and companies.  Dave Syverson and Select Foods have been wonderful partners for Jack Frost Closet.

If you have any questions please contact me. She is very deserving of this award!

— Nominated by Jean Eaton of Albert Lea