The girl, the woman, the lover, the mother, the grandmother, our Queen

After returning from a German prison camp in World War II, Laverne Axelsen and his wife Betty settled into their small home in Rockford, Illinois, a home that Laverne would occupy for the rest of his life. They had a son, Ken, and she was born four years later. She grew up tall and gangly; the fastest runner in her grade school gym class. In high school she worked at Mary Lester Fabrics; one of the quickest and smartest clerks they had ever hired. They were sad to see her leave for college, yet happy for her future.

Somewhat shy, she had reservations about attending college. Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa was a secure and nurturing place that gave her confidence and interpersonal strength. The tall, strong, independent girl with the broad smile drew admiring glances from a student named Don. When Don graduated from Graceland in the spring of 1971 he and she were “going steady.” During his first semester of graduate school at Kansas State University, Don proposed. She accepted and they were married in Rockford, Illinois on December 18, 1971. That marriage would last 40 years, 5 months, and 26 days.

Offered a position at Winona State University, the young economics professor brought her and their 3-month old son, Tad, to Winona, Minnesota. They hired a trucker to haul their 12X60 mobile home from Manhattan, Kansas to Hidden Valley Trailer Court in Minnesota City. Jerry and Bart Foster were the first Winonans to greet them as they blocked up their mobile home on a humid Friday night in August, 1975.

The next year they moved into a duplex on east Sanborn Street. In 1977 she noticed an ad in the newspaper for a large white house on Main Street. He told her they couldn’t afford it, but she begged him to look at the house anyway. With a lot of “sweat equity” they made it work. She loved her old house from the day she first saw it and every day thereafter. In 1986 she transformed the large Carriage House on the property into a Bed and Breakfast, which remains a family business to this day.

In December of 1981 her daughter, Tara, was brought home from Community Memorial Hospital in a Christmas stocking. Eleven babies were born at CMH that night. The birthing rooms occupied, she gave birth on a wheeled gurney in a waiting room, 13 minutes after being admitted to the hospital. Winona was a great place for her two children, both of whom went on to receive degrees from the University of Minnesota. She served for years as a volunteer at the Winona County Historical Society, where she handled everything from light social occasions to steam train excursions. With her children gone, she had the time to run for public office. She was elected twice as the 3rd Ward representative of Winona’s city government, a role that she took very seriously and enjoyed immensely.
She didn’t just “like” Winona…she LOVED Winona. She loved her home, her many friends, and especially her best friend Mary Nelson. She adored her daughter-in-law Lisa, her son-in-law Bob and her Grandson’s Marek and Silas.

As a girl in Illinois she learned how to grow up and run fast; in an Iowa college she learned confidence and independence; on the foothills of Kansas she learned how to be a newlywed. In marriage she learned responsibility and caring; in her children, Tara and Tad, she expressed complete joy. On her 60th birthday she learned what it is like to get the worst news possible. Finally, on June 13, 2012 she learned how to leave this world.

Be not sorrowful. I see a beautiful, tall girl running through a bright Kansas wheat field. Now she’s standing in the backwaters of Wapasha’s Prairie. She stoops down to pick a wild flower, then stands to admire the sunset over lake Winona. Peace and happiness permeate her soul. She has lived her life well but now she is home in the arms of her creator.

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14 Responses to The girl, the woman, the lover, the mother, the grandmother, our Queen

  1. Matt Wolfe says:

    Incredibly touching post, Mr. Salyards. My condolences to you and your family on your loss today.

  2. Mary Nelson says:

    Beautiful! She was a blessing. Thanks.

  3. Carol Barr says:

    Deb’s trials are over – may she rest in peace, and God comfort you and your family.

  4. Annie Beedle says:

    God Bless you and your family.

  5. Vaughn Tribble says:

    Don, I am so sorry to hear of you and your families loss. I know that you all are in the arms of caring friends, during this time of grief and reflection. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  6. Julie O'Brien says:

    Beautifully written …… Thoughts and Prayers to the Salyards Family ….

  7. Augie Karcher says:

    We at the Kensington will miss that tall, gangling girl with the engaging smile. She was one of us. Our prayers are with you.

  8. Gladys DeLano says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Deb was a wonderful woman and will be greatly missed.

  9. Jeff Kell says:

    God Bless you and your family Mr. Salyards. I am sorry to hear this news.

  10. Anuj says:

    I am very sorry to hear this. I wish I could have met her once. From last few hours I can’t stop thinking about her. Reminds me each and every moment how she took care of me when I was with her and treated me just like her own son be in US (year 2000-01 Rotary Youth Exchange Program) or during her couple of visits to India. Yesterday I went out for continental food with my office colleagues which reminded the year when I was in US. I got so excited and started sharing my experiences with them; what I did, how I used to think and how mom and dad (Deb and Don) gave me life time experience.

    She loved shopping. She taught me her shopping tricks ‘Best Quality at Best Price’. I still remember my first shopping experience with her in Mall of America. Winter was about to start and I did not have clothes to bare Winona’s winter. Over coat, shirts, pants, shoes, socks and many countless stuff she bought for me. I got tired in couple of hours and gave up but her list for my shopping was long enough to spend entire day in Mall of America.

    At the time of leaving USA, in Minneapolis airport she told me – “Son, it’s time to apart and cry. I love you so much and I thank to God that I have now 2 sons and a daughter. I will not come to India but you gotta come to States again to see me.” I tried to visit her when I found out about her chronic disease and couldn’t make it due to visa issue. But I am glad that she visited India twice before her bad health and I could stay with her and spend precious unforgettable moments. Some of her statements will always remain in my mind – ‘Anuj is my cheap date in India’ (some of the tourist places we visited during her visit to India in Delhi, Agra, Bharatpur; charges for tickets/entry fees/ passes were cheaper for Indians and expensive for foreign tourists).

    She promised me to attend my wedding in India and everything was planned accordingly, including the wedding date. Unfortunately, her health problem was detected and it was so severe that she couldn’t come to my wedding and I could never met her again in person; the only thing I regret in my life.

    Today Deb has left us but she has been and will always be there in my heart.

    May her soul rest in peace.

    With Regards,

    Her Son, Anuj and Bhawna

  11. Christopher Barr says:

    Captain Salyards, I am sorry to hear the news (belatedly from David Elrod) of Deb’s passing. But I am happy to read your wonderful words in her honor. My condolences.

  12. Jessica says:

    Incredible. This took my breath away. What an amazing capture of when she was here and where she is now. There is such a peace and knowing to your words…. God Bless.

  13. Alex Rud says:

    Very inspiring story to say the least, sad, but truly touching words. and I love the show of compassion and knowing she is in a better place not suffering from real world problems. I thoroughly enjoy your class and your character

  14. Thank you, Don, for your very loving and sweet tribute to Deb. I am grateful that she was one of my Graceland Paloma sisters and I always loved her ever-optimistic and enthusiastic love of life. You couldn’t help but catch her joyful energy.. Amazing–all she was able to accomplish, and all the things she did to make the world a better place! I will so enjoy the day when I see her again. Thinking of you, Don, and her dear family.

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