By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A lot of new voters turned out for this year’s general election, but for Lester Prairie resident Marie Moy, the day was extra special. Not only was it the first time she was able to vote, but the first vote she ever cast helped her grandson, Lester Prairie Mayor Andy Heimerl, win re-election.
“That was pretty exciting,” Moy said.
Although she has lived in this country most of her life, Moy, 78, did not become a US citizen until recently, and was never able to participate in an election until this year.
The path that Moy took to citizenship was long and complicated.
She was born in Pilger, Saskatchewan, Canada, a small farming community with a population of less than 100 people.
At age 16, she moved to the US with her family.
Her father was a native of St. Bonifacius. As a young man he had moved to Canada, and eventually got married. In the 1940s, he moved back to the US with his family, and that is how Moy came to live in Minnesota.
Moy met her husband, Roger, after moving to the US. He was a native of Waconia. They were married in October 1950.
Moy said she never thought about having to get her citizenship when she was younger.
“I thought when I married my husband I would be OK,” she explained.
It didn’t quite work that way.
She visited Canada often, and over the years, more and more documentation was required when she crossed the border.
“Every time, it seemed like what I had was not enough,” Moy said.
At one point she was asked to produce her birth certificate. She no longer had this document, because it had been lost in a fire in 1968. She had to send to Regina (the capital of Saskatchewan) to get a duplicate.
In 2003, she began the process of becoming a US citizen.
It took three years, many forms, and many letters back and forth to accomplish this.
“A letter takes six weeks,” Moy said, adding that it seemed like no matter which governmental agency she was contacting, it took six weeks to get a response.
She was asked to provide her father’s birth certificate. She was unable to come up with this, but she was able to get his baptismal records.
Her brother, Joe, got his US citizenship before Moy did, and he had to travel to Wahpeton, ND to get their mother’s birth certificate. This saved Moy one step in the process.
She had to give the government Joe’s certification number to prove that another member of her family had already earned his citizenship.
Moy finally became a US citizen on March 28, 2006.
She then received one more letter, this one signed by President George W. Bush, congratulating her on her accomplishment.
Today, Moy not only has her US citizenship papers, but she has a US passport as well.
With all of her paperwork in order, she was ready to vote Nov. 4.
Her daughter, Elly Heimerl of Lester Prairie (Andy’s mother), picked her up and brought her to city hall. Moy brought her citizenship documentation with her.
“She was so excited,” City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk remembered. “It took her three years to become a citizen, and she wanted to show someone.”
Moy recalled entering the voting booth for the first time.
“My first vote was for my grandson,” she said proudly. “I studied the whole ballot, and when I came to Andy’s name, I said, ‘I know who I am voting for in this one.’”
Heimerl won the election. He was previously elected to the city council, but was appointed to serve as mayor through the end of this year when Eric Angvall resigned the position last spring. This was Heimerl’s first mayoral election.
“When I got home, the first thing I did was call my oldest son in Waverly and told him my first vote was for Andy,” Moy said.
She added that she is going to have Heimerl autograph the campaign sign that bears his name along with the red and white “I voted” sticker that she got when she cast her first ballot. Then, she plans to display it in her living room.
Heimerl said he was excited to hear that his grandmother’s first-ever vote had been for him.
“I consider it quite an honor,” Heimerl said. “That was kind of cool.”
Looking around Moy’s Lester Prairie home, it is clear that her family is very important to her.
The walls are lined with family photographs, but then, she has a lot of family members to keep track of.
She has six sons and one daughter, and she has 20 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.
“When we all get together, we usually rent a hall so the younger kids have some room to run around,” Heimerl said.
Moy said her family helps her in many ways, and this included helping her when she was working to get her citizenship.
“They all helped,” Moy said.
It became a sort of a family project. “Everyone had a hand in it,” Heimerl said.
He explained that they helped her find the resources she needed and helped her with the correspondence.
They help in other ways, too.
Moy said her family members are always around, providing transportation and helping her with whatever she needs.
She especially appreciated the support her family provided when her husband died in 2006, helping her get all of her affairs in order.
Moy talked fondly about many family members, including her granddaughter, Angela Murray of Dassel, who helps Moy with her shopping.
“She does it all. She puts the items in the cart, and when we get home she brings the things in and puts everything away. She’s really helpful,” Moy said, adding that they also go to lunch and do other things together.
“She just called this morning and said, ‘I have Friday off, grandma, what do you want to do?’” Moy said with a smile.
Moy has lived in Lester Prairie for about 15 years.