Updated: December 20, 2018 06:22 PM
GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. - You don't have to look farther than Mary Myers Corwin's walls to see what lights her up -- dogs and cops.
Portraits of dogs, especially service dogs, and posters about backing the blue adorn her space in the Grand Rapids Artists Loft.
Now retired, her art is her work. But for decades, she worked side-by-side with police officers at three departments in three different states.
"First day, I knew this is what I want to do," Mary said.
She spent twenty years with the Grand Rapids Police Department. And during that time, she developed a deep bond.
"I consider them all my boys," Mary said. "Even the two girls on the department, Ashley and Mickey. They know they're my boys too."
With no kids of her own, she's adopted the officers.
"A lot of guys call her mom," GRPD Assistant Chief Steve Schaar said.
"Sometimes I get Mother's Day cards," Mary said.
And like any mother, she's always thinking about them.
"I worry about my boys every day," she said.
It's a tough job that across the nation, seems to only get tougher. Every year, she fills a binder with the faces of the fallen.
"Shot and killed after responding to a burglary in progress," she read off of one page.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, gunfire is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths, followed by vehicle crashes.
No matter how they died, Mary writes each name by hand on their own ornament, a sort of badge of the ultimate sacrifice.
"On the ones that I had room, I put EOW, which is End of Watch," Mary said. "That is the date that they died."
Their watch may be over. But their memory lives on.
"It's something that we can give back to the people that made the ultimate sacrifice," Assistant Chief Schaar said.
It all started when the department got in on Grand Rapids' Festival of Trees.
"I was afraid the guys were going to hang donuts and things on it," Mary joked. "So I said, 'Why don't we do something to honor the fallen?'"
Twenty years later, it's become a mission for her. But it can be a taxing one.
"I cry a lot," Mary said.
Every time an officer or K-9 leaves this world, Mary gets an email.
"More every year. More every year," she shook her head.
This year, 145 officers have died in the line of duty. Another 26 K-9s were also killed.
"I was thinking since we started this in '97, we've probably made close to 3,000 ornaments," Mary said.
But none of them stay in Grand Rapids. After Christmas, they are mailed to the individual departments to be passed on to the families getting through the holidays.
Mary keeps another binder of the thank you notes she's received in return.
"It was such a wonderful thing to open this package and know there are so many people who really do care," she read from one letter.
Hearing back from the officers' loved ones gives Mary hope, realizing how much it matters.
"It'll be passed to my immediate family in order to keep the flame from ever being extinguished," she read from another thank you note.
Mary is a light herself. Her successor at the police department knows that well.
"This tree is a great example of one of the many, many things that she does, not only for us but also for the community," Janell Hecimovich said. "She's great."
"She's been a great person to have around the office," Schaar said. "She's always happy and joyous."
But all Mary wants is for others to appreciate her boys in blue.
"They're sons, they're daddies, they're moms," she said. "They really do care."
And her blue Christmas is a symbol of their sacrifice.
"I need to keep doing this," she said. "This is what Mary is going to do until Mary can't do it anymore."
Updated: December 20, 2018 06:22 PM
Created: December 20, 2018 12:05 PM
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