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A tree of hope for Jayme Closs

WILLMAR -- Despite the bitter wind and cold, dozens of Jennie-O Turkey Store employees at the Willmar corporate office gathered outside around a large evergreen Thursday afternoon, to remember, honor and pray for one of their own -- the Closs fam...

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WILLMAR - Despite the bitter wind and cold, dozens of Jennie-O Turkey Store employees at the Willmar corporate office gathered outside around a large evergreen Thursday afternoon, to remember, honor and pray for one of their own - the Closs family of Barron, Wisconsin.

The tree, decked out in blue and green lights, will remain lit until Jayme Closs, the daughter of James and Denise Closs, returns home.

"To me it represents a beacon of hope, a beacon of solidarity with our family of team members over in Barron," said Jennie-O President Steve Lykken.

Jayme Closs, 13, went missing from her Barron home two months ago. Her parents, both 27-year team members of Jennie-O in Barron, were found killed in the home. Despite the efforts of state and federal law enforcement, who have dug through thousands of tips, there has been no major breaks in the case.

Many who work at the Jennie-O corporate office in Willmar have also worked and lived in Barron, or know people who do.

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"Our team members are our family," Lykken said, and the company wanted to do something in Willmar to show their love and support for the Closs family and the city of Barron.

Pat Solheid, vice president of human resources and administration at Jennie-O, and her team were able to put together the Willmar event in a week. Over 5,000 lights were strung on the 35-foot tree located in a courtyard at the Willmar campus. The blue lights are in honor of Jayme Closs, whose favorite color is blue. Green is for all missing and exploited children. The Willmar tree joins the decorated Barron feed mill and a tree at the Austin world headquarters of parent company Hormel as three beacons of hope.

"Our intent is to leave them on until Jayme returns," Lykken said.

The Willmar event came after a similar gathering last week in Barron. That town has a population of around 3,300; nearly 1,200 work for Jennie-O, Lykken said. What happened to the Closs family has hit the company very hard.

"People are unnerved," Lykken said.

In an effort to deliver some light and hope back to the small town, along with reigniting interest in the case, Jennie-O worked with the Barron School District to hold a tree lighting and lantern release ceremony in Barron on Dec. 12, the two-month anniversary of the crime. Hormel CEO Jim Snee wanted to do something to assist the town after reading about the effect the unsolved case was having on Barron, Lykken said.

"I have never been more proud to be part of this company," Lykken said, who also attended the Wisconsin event. "We hoped we could shine some light into that community, lift up that community in a time of what has been a terrible, terrible tragedy."

Jennie-O has donated $25,000 toward the reward for information that helps find Jayme Closs, bringing the total to $50,000. The company also helped pay the funeral expenses for James and Denise Closs.

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"It was the very least we could do," Lykken said. "It was one small burden we could take off the family's plate."

If anyone has any information about Jayme Closs, they are urged to call the Barron County Sheriff's Office tipline at 1-855-744-3879. Information on Jayme Closs, including a picture, can be found at https://amberalertwisconsin.org/ .

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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