August 11, 2017 06:44 PM
TACONITE, Minn. - Laura Nielsen would have turned 29 this year. If she were still here, her family and friends say she'd probably be working with kids and riding four-wheelers. Those were her two favorite things.
Laura passed away in 2013. It was completely unexpected. She was camping over Memorial Day weekend, and one morning, she just didn't wake up. She had fluid in her lungs, but doctors couldn't explain it.
Three months later, her friends from Taconite had an idea.
"When Laura was here, a group of friends of ours, we always got together and went on a four-wheeler ride on Labor Day weekend," Dusty Sipe, a friend, said.
They thought, why not continue that tradition?
"They set a date, and when we all got up here, it's like, oh my God. It's happening, and it's all for her," Laura's mom, Jill Hachey, said. "She would have absolutely loved going on a ride because that was her favoritest thing is getting a group of people together and riding. That's all she ever wanted to do."
In fact, Hachey said Laura was probably jealous that day. Sipe and another friend, Spring Delich, didn't expect anything big from the ride. But word spread through friends and social media, and about 80 people showed up for the first "Ride to Remember" in 2013.
"It was totally unexpected," Sipe said. "We were just going to go on a four-wheeler ride. That's all we wanted to do."
Delich said they decided to raise some money through the ride. At first, they weren't sure what it would go toward.
"We assumed we would make at the most $5,000," Delich said. "So when it was all said and done and we were counting the money, we were completely blown away that the first year, we made over $11,000."
Their original goal was $25,000. With the first year's success, they upped it to $50,000.
They decided to combine Laura's two passions, four-wheeling and kids, and build a playground with the money raised. They anticipated it would be built summer 2018. But after four rides, they'd already raised more than $55,000, so they decided to get construction started.
"Everybody is so excited and overwhelmed that they get a new playground," Hachey said about the Taconite community. "And it's amazing because the community built it."
They broke ground Monday. Labor is being donated by Ohman Pump Services out of Taconite.
"It's emotional," Delich said. "When you are working to get something and then you actually see it coming to life ... you know that we did a good job and everybody in the community helped make this possible.
Audrina Coyle, Laura's daughter, helped design the Laura Nielsen Memorial Playground. She got to pick the colors. Audrina said her favorite parts are the giant swing and monkey bars. She said her mom would think it was "awesome."
"I don't even think I could describe what she would think because I just know she would be so overjoyed and so happy," Hachey said, "just because it's for kids."
Kids should be able to play on the new playscape by next week, Sipe said. The middle section is designed for kids ages 5-12. There's also a smaller area for younger kids, ages 2-5.
"They're scoping it out. Oh heck, I'm scoping it out. I want that swing," Hachey joked.
This year will be the last the group fundraises through the "Ride to Remember." Sipe said they've had more people join every year, but they have yet to crack 200 people on the 25-mile ride.
"We even have people come who didn't know Laura because they just like what she stands for and they like to hear the story," Sipe said.
They'll add a few more elements to the playground with any money raised this year. The ride will still happen every year, just without the fundraising.
There will be a ribbon cutting and kids' night on Friday, Sept. 8. This year's ride is Saturday, Sept. 9. It will start on Hodgins Ave. in front of the playground.
Created: August 11, 2017 06:44 PM
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