By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN Dorothy Danielson was better known as Grandma Dorothy at Dassel Elementary, where she volunteered for more than 16 years.
“Grandma Dorothy how do you sum her up?” asked Mary Neu, Dassel Elementary volunteer coordinator of her first recruit.
Gracious, welcoming, and an avid supporter of education were other descriptions Neu suggested for Dorothy.
She was the one to go out into the community and share the importance of education.
“[Dorothy] was passionate about education,” Neu commented.
She also loved doing small-group and one-on-one work with the students. “She really got to them,” Neu said.
For the past five years, Dorothy volunteered mainly in Gail Ganser’s class, until she suffered a stroke in February.
Neu said Dorothy was even making plans to return to her students but then suffered a second stroke and died at Lakeside Health Care Center in Dassel March 22. She was 85 years old.
“Everyone just loved her,” Neu said.
Dean Jennissen remembers working with her when he taught at Dassel Elementary in the late 1990s.
“She definitely filled her role as grandma,” he said, explaining that she knew how to make every student feel good.
On a personal note, Jennissen remembers Saturday mornings, walking with his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters to the bakery when they were little. Dorothy and her friends were always excited to see the girls. “That was special for us,” he said.
Dorothy was a dedicated volunteer who helped out beyond the classroom, including all the special events like kindergarten round-up.
When it came to district referendums, Dorothy was out in the community educating the citizens and demonstrating her strong support of public education. She was also a passionate supporter of the DC Performing Arts Center.
In the 1990s, Dorothy was on the original CARE committee, which developed the district-wide character pillars still used today.
In 2002, Dorothy received the Edward H. Otto Partner in Public Education Award for being an active and supportive member of public education in the community.
In the late ‘90s, Dorothy was nominated by Neu for the KARE 11 Eleven Who Care award, recognizing outstanding volunteers who serve their community, which she received.
“I had the privilege of going with her for that,” Neu said.
Her connections went outside the school district, as well.
Dorothy was quite the seamstress, Neu said, explaining she had sewn several wedding dresses.
She also sold flowers for The ARC, an organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
A tribute to Grandma Dorothy
When the news of Dorothy’s death spread through the neighborhood around Dassel Elementary, current and former students of Dorothy’s gathered to pay tribute to her.
With heavy hearts and sticks of sidewalk chalk, kids and adults alike drew pictures and wrote messages in loving memory of their Grandma Dorothy.
“It was definitely a labor of love,” said Missy Johnson, whose son Christian, 11, had just visited Dorothy at the nursing home two days prior to her death.
“It was one way we could thank Grandma Dorothy, even though there is no way we could ever thank her for all she did,” Johnson said. “She loved everybody and she wasn’t afraid to show it, which is hard to come by these days.”
Paying tribute in this way also allowed hurting children to find peace.
While drawing on the sidewalk, one young girl asked Missy, “Do you think Grandma Dorothy can see this from Heaven?”
Missy said, “Of course she can, and I bet she is smiling that big smile of hers.”
That was enough to make the teary-eyed girl grin from ear-to-ear, Missy said.
“That’s what all this was about,” bringing peace to the kids who had lost a “grandma.”
By the time the rains came Monday following Dorothy’s funeral, there were tributes all along the sidewalk that reached both sides of the playground.