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December 11, 2019

11/29/2019 4:09:00 PM
'Tribe' of lifelong friends gathers in expression of gratitude for love and friendship

The Roman statesman and orator Cicero said, “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”

Most people would consider themselves fortunate to have one or two truly close friends throughout their lives. Kelly Marquardt of Lindstrom has eight. This year, thanks to the kindness and generous spirit of those friends, Kelly has seen her joy multiplied and the weight of her grief divided eight times over.

The close-knit group of women, known simply as “The Tribe,” grew up in the small southern Minnesota town of Slayton. They started their first day of school together and graduated together. Their mothers were neighborhood “coffee ladies” and their siblings and extended families also were friends.

The women of The Tribe represent nearly one-tenth of the 94-member Slayton High School Class of 1983. Three of them, including Kelly, grew up next door to each other, and five were cheerleaders for the Slayton Wildcats.  That cheerleading spirit recently filled the Marquardt family garage in Lindstrom as this energetic “garage band” of hard-working elves, clad in holiday sweaters, reindeer antlers and Santa hats, gathered to decorate more than 90 evergreen swags and a trailer-load of evergreen wreaths. They did if for Kelly, and in loving memory of her mom.

Kelly and her husband Brian operate Marquardt Christmas Trees. It’s a seasonal business that Kelly, a registered nurse, and Brian, a middle school science teacher, tookover 21 years ago shortly after moving to Lindstrom. Working at full-time jobs while operating their Christmas tree business and raising three children has been hard and demanding work. Over the years their family members, including parents, siblings and nephews, have often helped out.

Kelly says that, before his death her father Chuck Terry loved helping hubby Brian with the trees. When Brian’s parents moved to nearby Forest Lake, Minn., Kelly says that his father also is “in his glory” among the Christmas trees.

The Marquardt children, now in high school and college, were babysat by  Kelly’s mom Tootie Terry when they were small. Tootie and her sister would decorate Kelly’s house for the holidays so that Kelly could devote spare hours to crafting holiday swags and wreaths in the family garage for sale at the tree lot. “Sometimes I’d be out in the garage until 3 a.m.,” Kelly says.

Last November, shortly before Thanksgiving, Kelly’s mom died unexpectedly. The shock of her mother’s sudden passing devastated Kelly. She was overwhelmed with grief and facing the stressful holiday season.

“My mom was amazing in every way,” says Kelly, her voice quavering with emotion even now, a year later.

Shortly after her mother died, five members of “The Tribe” rushed to Kelly’s rescue. Knowing the close relationship Kelly shared with her mom, they said “We knew she was going to need some help.”  And so they came, to share not only condolences and moral support, but hands willing to work. “We’re coming to help you,” they told Kelly. On arrival, they swiftly made many more wreaths and swags than Kelly could have made on her own. The project was so successful that they decided to help again this year, and to make this year’s visit one of their special annual outings, which all nine friends could attend.

The Tribe’s annual outings have been going on for years. At their 20th class reunion the women decided, “We didn’t want to wait another five years to have this much fun. We have to get together more often.” So the friends planned a series of annual trips to places like New York City, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Sanibel Island, Fla., Wisconsin Dells, and—this year—to Minneapolis and then to Lindstrom, Minn.

Coordinating calendars and travel plans for busy women living in three different time zones requires patience, persistence and, they sent a lot of text messages in the wee hours of the morning. But the bond of friendship eventually brings them together again, year after year.

So, this year, In Lindstrom in mid-November. The Tribe cheerfully gathered in a warm garage on a cold day. They laughed, played Christmas carols, and sipped hot cider and Moscow mules as they decorated stacks of ever-greenery and celebrated the enduring value of friendship—multiplying joy, and sharing in loss.

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