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Mothers and grandmothers of military members honored as heroes

Jan Donahue, whose husband and son will be deployed this year, brought laughter to a group of mothers and grandmothers of active military members during a brunch Saturday in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

WILLMAR -- There were tears, alternating with laughter, during a brunch Saturday in Willmar to honor the mothers and grandmothers of active military members.

The 80 women in attendance didn't even attempt to fight back tears as the mothers or grandmothers of fallen local soldiers, Joshua Schmit and Ryane Clark, stood to be recognized.

And they laughed with Jan Donahue, who uses comedy to deal with her husband's upcoming third deployment and her oldest son's first deployment.

Sponsored by HomeFront Connection and the 2010 Willmar Fest Ambassadors, this first-ever event was designed to honor the women who raised the heroes that are fighting for the security and freedom of United States, said Trisha Appeldorn, Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Officer.

"You are a hero's hero," she told the women, who received a free meal, gift bags, flowers and door prizes donated by community organizations and businesses.

"I'm humbled to be around so many heroes," said Donahue, who toured as the "Military Comic" as an outlet for the depression she experienced after her husband's first deployment and she was left at home to care for two teenaged sons.

She's put her comedy tour on hold, but revived her act when invited to come to Willmar.

Her self-deprecating humor cut to the quick and revealed the hardships of the mothers and wives left behind.

"I was a great mom, but I sucked as a dad," she said.

When her husband was first deployed and she was left to be the sole disciplinarian, her angry young sons told her they wished she would have been sent to Iraq instead of their dad.

She would have gladly gone to Iraq rather than stay at home with the kids, she said with a laugh.

Now that her son is ready to be deployed to Kuwait, she tells her son that she wishes she could go instead of him.

Mention yellow ribbons and Donahue rolls her eyes.

When her husband was deployed, a neighbor tied a yellow ribbon around a tree in the front yard.

That was fine and dandy, she said, but wished that the neighbor would tie a ribbon around the Donahue's family dog and take him for walk, or offer some other practical help.

"John Q. Public is sick of the war," Donahue said.

Using humor to tell her stories is one way to educate the public and to support other people going through the same things she is, said Donahue, who wishes every Minnesota military send-off was held at Target Field with thousands of people in attendance to surround the soldiers and their families.

"Let's be proud of us," said Donahue.

Kammy Nelson, coordinator for HomeFront Connection, said it's important for the community to know when local military members are deployed.

Her own son deployed with the Litchfield National Guard unit. "Litchfield had the big celebration and Willmar didn't even know anyone had left," said Nelson.

Nelson said the organization is hoping to connect with area military families to help support those who are deployed and the family members who are left behind. She said more volunteers are needed to keep that support strong.

If the needs of families at home are met, it's easier for those in the military to stay focused on their mission, said Appeldorn.

For more information about HomeFront Connection, go to or call 320-262-6563. For more information about Blue Star Mothers, which also supports active military members and their families, go to

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750