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Local vets treated to Twins trip thanks to donations

WILLMAR -- For one Korean War veteran, his 82nd birthday might just be the best one yet.

Lloyd Tollefson will be celebrating his birthday today by traveling to Minneapolis with 65 other veterans to watch the Twins take on the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. His two daughters, Sharon Tollefson and Kathy Thonbold, paid for him and a friend to go on the trip, sponsored by the Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Office.

"It was a real surprise and a real pleasure," Lloyd Tollefson said of his daughters' birthday gift. "I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Tollefson, of Willmar, has been a big Twins fans for many years. He still wears a Twins cap that he bought during the team's first game at the Metrodome on April 6, 1982. He remembers the exact date because he wrote it inside the hat, along with the final score and the number of people in attendance at the stadium that day: 59,279.

But today, he'll trade his treasured Twins cap for one with an equally meaningful sentiment, his Air Force veterans hat. Tollefson served as a member of the Air Force for four years during the Korean War. Since his time in the military, he's stayed in touch with many of his fellow veterans.

"I met some good folks in service," Tollefson said. "I think it's good to remain a closely knit bunch. I enjoyed my years in service."

His daughter, Sharon Tollefson, said she and her sister wanted to give their dad something special for his birthday this year, and knew he would jump at the chance to see his favorite baseball team play.

"We're all huge Twins fans, and he has not seen Target Field yet," she said. "He can't wait. He's been acting like a little kid ever since he first heard about it."

The Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Office decided in March to host this trip for local veterans. Originally, the trip was to cost $70 per person, but through donations from community members and businesses, 100 people -- 65 veterans and 35 children and spouses -- will see the Twins play at no cost to them.

"I am really happy with the fact that we were able to make this trip free for everyone going," said Trisha Appeldorn, director of the Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Office. "This is a way to get different types of veterans that we don't see every day to sign up (for our activities)."

Veterans from World War II, the Iraq War and "everyone in between" signed up for the event, Appeldorn said. In the end, 16 businesses and 18 individuals donated enough money to pay for everyone attending.

Al Arends, who was deployed to Iraq in 2007-08 and is currently serving in the National Guard, will be traveling to Minneapolis with the group. He said the community's willingness to fund this trip for veterans "didn't surprise" him at all.

"The community support has been great," said Arends, of Willmar. "The community has been very giving and supportive of troops in general."

The Veterans Service Office typically puts on two events each year for veterans. Earlier this year, the office held a veterans benefit workshop for more than 300 attendees. Last year, veterans went to the Minnesota Capitol for a service honoring Vietnam veterans, and they also installed flag poles with United Way.

"(Veterans) are a very solid core of people," Sharon Tollefson said. "They have great camaraderie. It's good for (the community) to recognize and thank them in whatever ways we can."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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