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Reconnecting, one phone call at a time

She graduated from high school 54 years ago, but Connie (Anderson) Wanner is once again giving her senior picture to high school friends.      A small stack of the black and white photos of the 1956 Willmar High School graduate have been stored in an envelope over the many years with the familiar “Best of Luck in the future . . .” message written on the back of each one. As happens with many high school seniors, some photos are never given out.     One senior photo has been sent to Bev, a neighbor of Connie’s during the 1950s, who was a year younger. Bev was just one of the 244 acquaintances that Connie called during her phone call a day project that she completed in April.     The phone calls began last August when Connie became home-bound due to a broken leg. Sitting in her wheelchair for three-month span, she spoke on the phone to a long-time friend from Kentucky. Connie said she needed something to do since she couldn’t leave her apartment. The friend suggested calling someone every day. To make it more of a challenge, Connie decided to call people she had not seen for many years which included high school classmates, friends, and relatives.     “I called 52 of the 178 high school classmates I graduated with, and that doesn’t include the 22 I’ve always been in contact with,” she said. Several of her classmates, to whom she never gave a picture, will now receive the photo that she wrote on 54 years ago.     Holding an old black and white photo taken at her sixth birthday party, she added, “And I even called these friends who came to my party.”     More old friendships were rekindled when Connie called six couples, originally from Willmar, who were stationed in Hawaii in 1960, the same time she and her former husband, who was in the Army, were also stationed.     She called people with whom she worked in gift shops at Yellowstone National Park during the summers of 2002, 2005 and 2007 and many employees from the banks she worked at.     All the calls were made with her land phone that has unlimited calling. “I would never have been able to afford the calls otherwise,” she said, adding that she wrote down every person she called, the date, to where the call was made and how she knows them.     Out of all the calls she made, only one woman didn’t remember her until Connie sent a photo of the two of them hiking in Yellowstone Park.     She called 22 states with the longest call at 53 minutes, a time known because she saved every phone bill. She never left a message on answering machines, but would try again until she reached the person. Phone numbers were obtained by calling information, people she called would share phone numbers, and from class reunion booklets.     “I stopped on April 14 after making 244 calls as it got to be a bit stressful in attempting to find more people to call. It was a little bit of a letdown, but it was fun and I’ve remained in contact with many of the people I called.”     But why did she stop at 244?     “Because 10 is my lucky number and 2 plus 4 plus 4 equals 10. It must be a banking thing,” laughed the retiree of a 32-year banking career. “And 10 is my lucky number because my sister and I quit smoking in 1984 and we saved the money spent on cigarettes for one year and used it to take a trip to Hawaii. We left on 10/10/85 at 10 a.m. on a DC10 plane. It’s been my lucky number every since!”     Her banking career began right after graduation from high school. “I graduated Friday and started work at the 1st National Bank on Monday, now known as U.S. Bank in Willmar.”     Nine months later she moved to Massachusetts with her husband whom she married in October 1956. Being married to an Army man, the couple lived in many places including Japan for 1½ years and in Hawaii two times where they took part in the celebration of the islands becoming a state in 1959. Their two sons, Mark and Eric, were both born there.     After their 19-year marriage ended, Connie moved back to Willmar in 1975 and went back to working at 1st National. She and her sons lived together with her mother, Grandma Olga.     “Mom and I became best friends forever and she was so supportive to me and boys after the divorce,” Connie remembered. Her mother passed away in January 1997, her sons were grown, so Connie got the urge to move back to Hawaii leaving her job at 1st National.     “I told everyone that I would be back in two weeks, two months or maybe two years,” she laughed. She worked part-time at the Bank of Hawaii and returned to Willmar 1½ years later where she worked part time for the Wells Fargo Bank and officially retired from that career in 2002.     Photography started as a hobby for Connie with her Brownie camera during her junior high years.     “It was one of those that you had to look down into the view finder on top of the camera, but it took decent pictures back then,” she recalled.     The hobby evolved into freelance photography that has won her many awards and notoriety through the publication of her photos in tourism brochures, postcards to promote five states, calendars, coffee mugs, shot glasses, magnets, phone books and more.      Her first photos were published in 1985 in a Montana visitor’s magazine and as a postcard promoting the Big Sky Country state. Connie has made frequent visits there as her son, Mark, his wife, Sandy, and their two sons live in Forsyth. Son, Eric, his wife, Sheri, and three children, make their home in Willmar.     “I’m not doing it (photography) to make money, but to show the beauty of nature and to share them with people,” she emphasized. Her photos of the Split Rock Light House on the North Shore have been printed on various items including the 2006 Minnesota calendar. Her camera has captured many scenic shots in Kandiyohi County which have been printed in the county’s visitor guides and postcards. Her photos can be found on every cover of En-tel Communication phone books since the books were first printed in 2004.     Her most published photo was taken in Montana of a “whoa” stop sign with “cowboys have the right of way.”     She used 35mm cameras for many years which have been replaced with the digital camera. Her favorite is the Kodak Easy Share of which she is on her third one that is 8.2 mega pixels.     “The Easy Share is not an expensive camera,” she noted. “Cheap digitals take great pictures.”     She prints her own photos with a commercial picture maker.     In addition to freelancing and the phone call a day project, Connie has completed other photo projects. When she turned 70 in 2008, she started with a photo a day for one year.  On her 71st birthday, she took a photo every Sunday, and since turning 72 in April, she is now on a mission to take a photo the first day of every month for one year.     “I take more than one picture, but I only keep one,” she explained as she turned the pages of the photo albums she has to display her projects. Every picture is identified as to the day and place the picture was taken.     “And most of the pictures are of nature, there are no people,” she claims. “When I did the photo a day for a year, 64 of the 365 photos were taken on my daily walk.”     When she was homebound for three months with a broken leg, she was also doing her photo a Sunday project in addition to her phone call a day. Since she was unable to leave her apartment as often, she took photos that included the many collections of troll dolls, wolves, angels, dolls from her childhood, Vikings and Twins souvenirs, quilts, Japanese  décor and more that she has throughout her home. She also included outdoor scene shots taken from her balcony.     Since April, when she turned 72, her new project is to take a photo on the first day of every month. On May 1 , she created a beautiful picture of spring flowers in bloom.     In 1993 Connie a bought her first pot-bellied troll doll that she takes with her when she travels. She named her red-hair friend, Traveling Troll, or “TT” for short. The red hair has “better impact in pictures.”     TT has traveled with Connie many times including Montana, Hawaii, Yellowstone, Arizona, and also the six expeditions she made on the Lewis & Clark Trail. During their travels, TT poses for photos. But the family has grown as TT has met many more troll friends during its travels and they now all live with Connie.     “I’ve received many comments from people as they watch me pose TT and take pictures,” Connie said, “and they think it’s a fun idea and it is!”     TT and friends will pose for many more photos with Connie behind the lens. She currently has 70 CDs filled with all the photos she has kept (not taken) since 2005 with each CD holding about 200 photos.     Her creativity excels in taking photos. One of her favorites is a carpenter bee on a goldenrod flower. Pointing to the bee, she joked, “It looks like a punk rocker with sunglasses and spiked hair!”     She has taken many close-ups in nature including birds, a fly on a flower, butterflies, dragonflies, mosquitoes, leaves, grasshoppers and a garter snake. “It seems like they all pose for me. But I also take many in my apartment. One day it was my Yellowstone photo walls and even my tropical fish shower curtain!”     There are many more photos to be taken and projects to complete. Have Connie, her camera, and TT will travel.

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