By Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published March 06 2010
Giving back after tragedyGRAND FORKS – Family members of Gina Anderson have made a point of giving the money donated in her name to a variety of causes to make something good out of the double losses they suffered.
Anderson was 32 when she disappeared mysteriously from her home in Thief River Falls, Minn., Oct. 23, 2008.
After a year of searching turned up nothing, the Thief and Red Lake rivers in the city were lowered in October by increasing flows through the city’s dam, revealing her car, and her remains, inside.
Her death was ruled a drowning.
Adding to her family’s anguish was the death of Gina’s youngest sister, Jill Lappegaard, who was 22 when she died in a traffic accident, near Thief River Falls on Dec. 7, 2008, in the midst of planning another fundraiser for the search effort for Gina.
Jackie Pagel, the middle sister of the three daughters of Steve and Judy Lappegaard, e-mailed The Herald on Friday with information about the funds.
“Gina’s benefit was the reason we were able to do all of this,” Pagel said. “The donations came from all over, so it would be kind of nice to show people who donated money from all over – that we don’t know – what we used the money on after Gina was recovered.”
People gave money to help with the search for Gina and after her body was recovered, people made memorial gifts at or shortly after her funeral, Pagel said.
Pagel provided this list of how the money has been passed on so far:
- $3,800 was given to the Thief River Falls Search and Rescue Team to help buy an enclosed trailer. The family of Tim Hanson, who drowned in a water accident and had been a neighbor of Steve and Judy Lappegaard, also contributed $2,200 to the trailer, including some customized additions to it. The Rescue Team recovered Hanson’s body and helped in the search for Gina, Pagel said.
- $1,000 for new hymnals in Trinity Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls, where the family attends and where Jill’s and Gina’s funerals were held. “Gina’s and Jill’s names will be put inside the front cover of the hymnals in remembrance of them,” Pagel said. “The pastor, the Rev. John Voelker, was a very big support to our family during and after the tragedies.”
- $500 was donated to the Pennington County Humane Society in Thief River Falls.
“Gina would donate collars and other dog essentials to the Humane Society and also acted as a foster parent to dogs” while the center looked for permanent homes for them, Pagel said. “Gina kept one of the foster dogs, a Lab/Elk Hound named Ellie.”
- $500 to KTRF Radio in Thief River Falls, “to be used for anything that is in need at the station or used for help in other trag-edies,” Pagel said.
The station did a lot to help get information about the search for Gina on the airwaves, and also broadcast her funeral service on the local access cable TV channel, Pagel said.
- $500 to the Thief River Falls Eagles for kitchen supplies or renovations to the club, which hosted Gina’s benefit and spaghetti dinner and other efforts.
- $500 to Project Jason, a national organization which holds an annual retreat for the families of missing persons and which helped Gina’s family with advice and getting the word out on her disappearance.
- $110 to sponsor Gina and Jill in the Angels Across America tour, put on by country singer Alan Pederson to sing in churches to keep alive the memory of lost loved ones.
- The metal detector bought with money from benefits for Gina and used in the search for her was given to Gary Peterson, the volunteer search investigator from southern Minnesota who aided in searches for Gina. He will use it for other underwater and other searches, Pagel said.
- $100 donated to the Ryan Bjerklie “Because I Can” fund to help buy school supplies for children in Haiti.
Pagel and her parents remain close to Gina’s husband, Jeremy, who came home from work to find her missing that October evening and the pain hasn’t eased much, said Pagel, who lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and children.
“My parents and all of us are doing our best to hang in there. It has gotten a lot tougher these days than ever before. I can imagine this is the way it is for any family dealing with loss or multiple losses.”
The giving isn’t over as funds remain from gifts in Gina’s and Jill’s names, Pagel said.
“We are still working and thinking about other causes like ours that we would like to donate to,” Pagel said in her e-mail to The Herald. “Gina’s benefit outcome was over and beyond what we would ever have thought we would get for support. We are so grateful to have such amazing people support us. We want anyone and everyone who donated to Gina’s Benefit and cause to know that their donations were used to search for Gina but now that she has been found, we are using it to assist other families in the search for their loved ones and in other tragedies.”
Stephen J. Lee is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.