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Brittany Lawonn, Published September 10 2007

Morgenstern remembered with garden

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Four days before the one-year anniversary of Mindy Morgenstern’s slaying, friends and family members gathered to dedicate a memorial to her.

Hugs and tears were shared, less than a block from the apartment where she was killed, along with doting words Sunday about the vivacious 22-year-old who touched so many lives, as Tonia Christiansen, said of her friend and former roommate.

More then 100 people assembled during the dedication of a heart-shaped garden at the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue Northeast.

Morgenstern’s mother, Eunice, was among many who responded when the crowd was asked what part of her daughter’s life lives on in them.

“Her loving heart,” the New Salem, N.D., woman said with a smile.

Ashley Moen brought tears to many eyes during the ceremony as she read part of a letter Morgenstern wrote to her while she was deployed in Iraq.

Moen fought back tears herself as she described how her friend always brought her comfort overseas.

“I knew that every night she was praying for me and I was going to make it home,” she said.

Moen replaced her name with Morgenstern’s in the letter, saying she wished she had been able to tell her friend how much she cared for her before she died.

The ceremony Sunday marked a time to remember “all those things that Mindy just oozed out of her personality,” said Bonnie Ranum, the mother of Morgenstern’s boyfriend, Jordan.

Ranum said emotions for Morgenstern’s loved ones and the city have run the gamut since her Sept. 13, 2006, death and with the looming second murder trial for Moe Gibbs, the former Barnes County jailer accused of killing her.

A Minot, N.D., jury deadlocked 6-6 in July over whether Gibbs, 35, had strangled and stabbed Morgenstern in her apartment. His new murder trial is slated to start Oct. 22 in Bismarck.

Mindy’s Garden will serve as a place for people to stop and remember Morgenstern and reflect, Ranum said, calling it “a healing place.”

Three books will be kept underneath a hand-carved bench in the garden for people to browse through, write in and borrow.

The books include the Bible, a journal and “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, which Ranum encouraged people to sign and date after they read it.

Several people got a closer look at the colorful garden after the dedication ceremony finished, including Dee Ranum, Jordan Ranum’s grandmother, who left behind a pink rose.

“That one was so pretty this morning I thought of Mindy right away,” Dee Ranum said, adding Morgenstern always used to compliment her on her garden.

Roses were Morgenstern’s favorite, according to Eunice Morgenstern, who said she was grateful for the positive way to remember her daughter and happy to see the outpouring of love.

“It really does touch my heart to know that people care,” she said.

The garden is a true testimony to Morgenstern having touched many people’s lives and one she would be grateful for, Christiansen said.

“Now she has a permanent home here,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541