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.