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Kevin Wallevand, Forum News Service, Published August 08 2013

VIDEO: Family's dedication to former Fargo teacher shines

FARGO - A popular "Pay it Forward" program at Bell State Bank has added a unique twist. Bank employees are part of a Community Connect project.

The employees select other members of the community who in turn choose a recipient. Wednesday, three donors in Fargo-Moorhead selected the family of Jodell Johnson and donated $3,000.

Jodell is the 44 year-old Fargo elementary school teacher who suffered a critical stroke three years ago. She is now a resident of Elim Care Center.

She has two daughters, ages 7 and 5.

"I love being a member of this community because I think that is what we do. We give when we can and we pay it forward," said Jeanne Peinovich, who is among those who donated to the family.

Teachers and staff throughout the Fargo school system also have hosted fundraisers to help the Johnson family.

It would be hard to find a more embracing, faith-filled family than the family of Jodell. Her husband and two charming girls are fixtures at Elim Care Center in south Fargo.

On this sunny, summer morning, it is another day of devotion. Ruel Johnson and his precious girls have come to see mom every day - in fact twice a day - morning and night.

"You know, peace of mind for myself as well. Just kind of getting updates and knowing how she's been each day," said Ruel Johnson, Jodell's husband.

This story of faithfulness and affection started in 1996.

"The first date I had with her, I called her and invited her and her roommate because I wasn't sure if she was interested," Ruel Johnson said.

This school teacher and youth minister dated, married, and soon became the proud parents of Ellika, and Annika.

"Her dream was to have girls, and she thought she would have boys, because we have five nephews," Ruel Johnson said.

But in 2010, as the family vacationed in the Twin Cities, tragedy struck.

"She came out of the shower and just said she didn't feel right. She said, 'No, something is wrong,' and she kept grabbing the back of her neck," Ruel Johnson said.

Jodell suffered a massive stroke, a brain-stem injury that would nearly take her life. She has Locked In Syndrome, and her eyes can go up and down, but not horizontal.

Wednesday, at Elim Care Center, the former Fargo school teacher was surrounded by life-insuring machines and life-sustaining photos. Some memories, others updates of her daughters' lives, school plays and church programs. It is a way to keep Jodell connected to her pride and joy.

"The damage the stroke has done robbed her of a lot of things. We just did not want that to be one of the things," Ruel Johnson said.

The stroke left a cruel impact on Jodell. She is trapped in her body, aware of what is happening around her.

"They sometimes wonder why it's taking so long for mom to get better. There gets to be some questions, but I think they understand pretty well," Ruel Johnson said.

This devoted husband and father does not miss a day. These miraculous mornings of loyalty, keeping the promise made in sickness and in health.

"She always wanted to be a mom, and these two make it pretty easy to be parents," Ruel Johnson said.

Making sure his two girls are reminded of a mom who had big plans for them, and how that will still happen. The journey there is just taking a different route.

It's a big year for the Johnson family. Annika starts kindergarten and Ellika is headed to second grade. There is an account for the family of Jodell Johnson set up at all Bremer Banks.