Musician performs for vets at Eagle’s Healing Nest twice a month
God and music are great healers. Just ask Connie Lee and the veterans at the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre.
“Music is something we all can share to heal from anything that has happened to us,” said Lee.
Twice a month, since fall of 2017, this country music singer, who returned home to Minnesota a few years ago, after 20 years in Nashville, performs with her band and guests at Eagle’s Healing Nest. She calls it the “best kept secret in Central Minnesota.”
Lee met Melony Butler, Nest director, two years ago while both were waiting to be television show guests.
“We got to talking, and I was so interested in what Melony was doing for our veterans that we started planning a show right away so I could help draw attention to the Nest and help our vets,” said Lee.
What Lee loves most about the Nest are the veterans.
“They are so amazing and have gone through so much to let us keep our freedoms, and I can’t thank them enough,” said Lee.
The last Sunday of every month and two weeks before, she performs live Connie Lee Country shows at 2 and 4 p.m., in the The Nest auditorium, where there is a huge dance floor, and the veterans prepare food shared with guests. Those shows are recorded for radio broadcasts.
Shows are open to the public. Money raised through free-will offerings goes to the Nest.
Lee was “born to sing,” something she has done since age 3.
“I wanted to be a professional country music singer with big hair, like Dolly Parton,” said Lee.
Her baptized name is Connie Le Stich. (In Nashville they added another e to Le and dropped her last name.) She was raised in Urbank, Minn., the youngest of Rose and Ben Stich’s five children. She feels blessed to have grown up in a “supportive, faith-based, musical family,” who sang together, as “The Stich Family.”
“I wanted to be like dad. Every night after supper dad would get his guitar out and play while we were doing dishes,” said Lee, who sings and plays instruments by ear, with no formal training.
At age 12, she recorded her first song in Nashville and started touring with the Grand Ole Opry at age 14, continuing for six years. I’m Not Lisa was the first song Lee sang at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I was scared to death. ‘Okay God. Let’s go,’ I told myself. I had just turned 14, and all of a sudden, I was on stage with all of these idols,” said Lee, admittedly a shy girl, whose parents were in the audience.
Country singer Chet Atkins was Lee’s mentor and a father figure. She recalled meeting Atkins when she was 15. Lee and her sister, Detsie Wagner, were in a Nashville parking lot when Atkins, who they knew had just signed Ricky Skaggs to a record package, drove up in a Chevy Blazer. Lee gave him a demo of her most recent record, and he called her in Minnesota and said he would do what he could to help her.
“He took me under his wing and helped get me on The Ralph Emery Show,” said Lee.
She recorded her first country album in Nashville at age 15.
During her time in Nashville, with Detsie as her manager, she recorded demos for songwriters plus worked on the road with her own show.
“I did duets with Keith Whitley and worked with everyone from George Jones and Tammy Wynette to Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton,” said Lee.
She won numerous awards.
“Being inducted into the Traditional Country Music Hall of Fame was very special,” she said.
In the late 1990s, Lee had a number one hit, Up This Hill and Down, in England and Europe. That led to another highlight in her musical career when she was invited to co-host, with another Grand Ole Opry celebrity, the British Country Music Awards on BBC.
Lee loved her time in Nashville but admits, “It can eat you up.”
She moved back to Minnesota to be closer to family and help her parents after her dad’s stroke. Her parents were married 70 years before her dad passed away in 2013.
Lee remembers promising her mother, on her deathbed, that she would keep the family together—and she has.
She cherishes those memories, admitting she got her spunk from her dad.
She treasurers her dad’s guitars, including one she had Chet Atkins sign.
In 2005 Lee married Kevin Cunningham, who lived in Alexandria and was a restaurant owner.
She went back on the road touring, playing in Medora, Branson, at casinos, theaters, county fairs, festival and churches. She was excited to start a new venture, starting a radio station a few years ago (KLKX).
She’s a firm believer that “When God closes one door, he opens another.”
In 2004 she was in a car accident, suffering from tremors and losing her singing voice for six years. She was told by a doctor that her body went into shock after the accident and her diaphragm was spasming.
“It was like losing my right arm, my whole self-worth,” said Lee.
Faith played an important part in her recovery. Her mother prayed five rosaries a day for her. After months of physical therapy, she could sing again.
“It was a miracle, and I’ve been singing God’s praises,” said Lee.
During each Connie Lee Country show at the Nest, 5-foot 1-inch Lee sings heartfelt songs, including one with words written in poem format by a resident veteran.
“I’m so thankful for where I am now,” she said.
Lee’s gift of music heals hearts, including her own.
Editor’s note: This article is being published with permission from the Melrose Beacon. A special thank you to the Melrose Beacon and Star Publications for sharing this article with Senior Perspective.