Diane MacGregor has often rallied around the residents of Pelican Rapids’ culturally diverse community. With her husband, Richard, she’s volunteered at the Pass It On Ministries’ thrift store. For the past eight years, she’s served as its manager overseeing the store’s 60 volunteers as they sort, price and display donated used items in the store.
But three years ago the volunteers and store patrons returned that love and support when the couple’s daughter, Sandra Casella, was diagnosed with cancer. When she died a year ago, they filled the church for the memorial service.
“This was a lifesaver for me,” Diane said of the store and community. “This is a great place to come for companionship and friendship. Everyone here was a big support. It’s nice to have that kind of a support system.”
Pelican Rapids has been home to the MacGregors for the past 50 years. Richard taught physics and chemistry at the high school and Diane was a daycare provider. For 37 years, as they raised their own children — Scott, Amy and Sandra — the couple parented others through the foster care program.
“Both Dick and I grew up in large families,” she said. “We were happy with our three children and we decided to become foster care parents. One Christmas we had seven kids celebrating the holidays. I think I was the happiest when I had all those kids around me.” Their children have that same compassion for youth.
“I hoped that my kids learned something from it,” Diane said. “And I guess they did. My son has been involved with the Boy Scouts and our daughter has worked with the Girl Scouts. All of our kids were very involved in church activities with youth.”
As they worked with youth, the couple noticed changes within their community. Pelican Rapids, which had been settled by Germans and Scandinavians, was getting some new residents. First there were Chinese, then refugees from Somalia. Hispanics also moved to town. They found employment at West Central Turkeys processing plant.
“At first, they kept to themselves,” Diane said. “Then they started to get more involved. We have our own Somali grocery store and a Mexican foods grocery store. There’s an authentic Mexican restaurant, and it’s common now to see someone walking down the street wearing a Burka.”
The adults are becoming more involved in community events and the children are joining sports and extracurricular activities at school. They’ve become regular customers of the thrift store, too. At first, few spoke English, Diane said. The parents would often bring their children with them to translate conversations. Now they talk easily with the staff. They share information on their children’s triumphs and the challenges of the day. They’ve become friends.
When they learned about Sandra’s diagnosis, the store patrons joined others to pray for the family.
“People were always asking about her,” Diane said. “Some of the Hispanics were praying for her and not just the volunteers, but also the customers.”
Everyone turned to Facebook when Dick, Diane and their children were called to the East Coast as Sandra’s condition worsened.
“Everyone knew what was going on,” Diane said. “The whole town was talking and everyone was praying for her and us.”
Scott, who lives in Crookston, and Amy, of Pelican Rapids, did not arrive before Sandra died. But they were comforted by the words many shared on the Facebook site.
She died in January, and the family arranged a memorial service in June.
“The church was filled,” she said. “It was filled with people who were there for us.”
She waves hello to a volunteer who’s arrived to help for the day and begins unpacking a box of newly donated items. Inside the store, customers are arriving eager to look at the new displays. Diane smiles at all the activity. Her work as been like a balm. And she’s been comforted by the support of her many friends, including the store volunteers and patrons. It’s a very special support system, she says. It’s been very special, indeed.