OLIVIA — Working as a charge nurse at the local nursing home, helping her husband when he owned the Olivia Bowl, and raising four children all kept Monica Steffel plenty busy.
So busy, she admits, she never had a chance to fully appreciate how people in her community look out for one another.
“I had to get sick to see how great people are,” said Steffel of the help she’s recently received.
Steffel, who will turn 78 next month, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in September. After five weeks of radiation therapy, she is currently undergoing chemotherapy with the prospect of a surgery ahead.
“My oncologist told me it’s going to be tough and even younger people would have a hard time getting through what I’ve gone through,” said Steffel.
The chemotherapy makes her sensitive to cold. She cannot drink or eat anything that isn’t at room temperature. She made the mistake of swallowing pop that had not sat on the counter long enough to warm to room temperature. “It feels honest to God like you’re swallowing crushed glass,” she said.
She woke up the morning of March 21 shaking with cold, her nose feeling like an iceberg.
Her furnace had gone out. Steffel continues to live in the Olivia home that she and her late husband, Gordy, had purchased in 1978. She appreciates her independence.
Gregg Helin with Northern Plumbing and Heating of Olivia responded to her call for help. He had to red-tag the furnace as unsafe and told her it had to be replaced.
Living on Social Security is no fun, said Steffel. She knew she couldn’t afford to pay for a new furnace on the spot, and provided a small down payment. Helin helped her look into the financial help she might receive. They learned that she could possibly receive help to purchase a furnace, but only after going through an application process that would take some time, she said.
Helin installed the new furnace without waiting because of the immediacy of Steffel’s situation, said Cathy Helin. She helps her husband with the business that Gregg’s father had started in 1981. The couple are parents to four young children, and Cathy owns and operates Tula Mind Body Spirit.
“Tell your mother I am going to see that she has that furnace and doesn’t have to pay,” Steffel said Gregg Helin had told her daughter.
The furnace was on them, the Helins told Steffel. She made them promise to apply the down payment to the next person they help.
Steffel said she hopes people appreciate the importance of hometown business people. She said she’s learning just how much her neighbors and local business people look out for others. Since her cancer diagnosis, she’s also been the recipient of everything from baskets of food to books. She gets phone calls with this message: “Don’t fix dinner. We’re having it brought over.”
And of course, her four children, three of whom live more than an hour’s drive away, “have been so good about helping me,” she said.
Cathy (Behr) Helin grew up in Willmar, and her husband in Olivia. Both served as coaches with the BOLD School District, and believe in supporting the BOLD community, Cathy said.
“It’s important to us to give back to our community, our churches and our schools,” she said.