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Published March 25, 2012, 11:30 PM

Sisters are this month's Beautiful Women

As little girls, sisters Elaine Anderson and Joan Klinnert knew how to have fun.

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

On the radio

Tune into WDAY-AM and “The Christopher Gabriel Program” between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday as Christopher interviews Elaine and Joan.

As little girls, sisters Elaine Anderson and Joan Klinnert knew how to have fun.

“I remember everyone saying, ‘Don’t let them sit together in church!’ We’d get in so much trouble for giggling,” says Joan.

Separated by just two years, Elaine and Joan have been partners in fun for more than 50 years. And now their ability to turn family heartache not only into smiles, but gratitude and empathy has made them the Beautiful Women of March.

Elaine and Joan are the seventh and eighth of nine children born to a loving Irish-German family in Perham, Minn. Elaine now lives in Dilworth, while Joan lives in Kindred, N.D. Looking back to childhood, they say all five girls in the family were close. As for their older brother, Steve, it was another dynamic.

“One of my biggest memories of him is how he used to snap us with dish towels,” Elaine says with a laugh.

The sisters say they were devastated when they got the news last spring that Steve, who still lived in Perham, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He underwent chemotherapy but was told to put his affairs in order. To add to the heartache, a short time later, Steve’s 24-year-old daughter Stefanie Hurt was diagnosed with breast cancer.

For a family with no prior history of cancer, the news hit hard.

“I remember sitting at our Thanksgiving celebration this past year, looking at their (Steve and Stefanie’s) bald heads thinking ‘What can we do for them?’ That’s when I said to Joan, ‘how’d you like to cut your hair?’” says Elaine.

The plan over that turkey dinner was that Joan and Elaine would vow to shave their heads if they could each raise $500 dollars for Steve and Stefanie and other extended members of the family who were fighting cancer. But it wasn’t necessarily an easy sell for Joan.

“I told her, ‘My hair’s prettier than yours. It’s worth more than that!’ ” Joan says with a laugh.

So they raised the bounty on their locks to $2,000 a piece.

Right away it was game on for big sister Elaine.

“She’s so competitive. She kept calling me asking how much I was raising. I just kind of threw it out there,” says Joan.

Nonetheless, by January both of the sisters had far exceeded their goal. They ended up raising about $10,000 between them. In addition to collecting money for shaving their heads, they hosted a benefit dinner in January complete with a silent auction and raffle. But the highlight of the night was when the clippers came out.

The sisters sat face to face on bar stools as the shaving began. Elaine’s clippers worked better than Joan’s so her hair fell first.

“I remember looking over at her thinking, ‘She looks like Mr. Clean!’” says Joan.

But soon Joan was in the same boat. After some tears and smiles, both had bald heads.

Elaine and Joan say it’s the very least they could have done to show their support for Steve, Stefanie and other family members fighting cancer.

“Steve had the most beautiful silver-gray hair. Stefanie’s was long and brown and all of it was gone after chemo. This was just something we felt we could do from a distance to show our love,” says Joan.

But the sisters say what they’ve given pales in comparison to the lessons they’ve learned and the love they’ve received.

“You can hear and read textbook theory on hospice care. But it all really hit home for me when I started to encounter all the stares,” says Elaine.

People began to assume she had cancer and the reaction was varied. Some people nervously looked away not knowing what to say, others came up, embraced her, and shared their own cancer stories. One man even offered to pay for her gas.

“I’ve seen such kindness in people when they assume I’m sick. It’s been eye-opening,” says Elaine.

“I love that this has raised awareness that cancer can happen to anyone. We haven’t had cancer in our family until this past year. This has been such an education,” says Joan.

Unfortunately, less than a month after the benefit Steve lost his battle with cancer. He died Feb. 23; Stefanie’s cancer is in remission.

Both sisters say this adventure has made them more grateful for their own health and blessings.

“You know I never liked that song ‘One Day at a Time,’ when I was growing up. But it’s really true,” Elaine says. “I feel like we really need to appreciate what we have when we have it. As Steve used to always say, ‘It is what it is’. We have to deal with everything, but we need to celebrate the goodness that surrounds us.”

Her younger sister echoes those thoughts.

“Life is a gift,” Joan says. “It’s so easy to get caught up in things that don’t really matter. It’s so easy to take our blessings for granted. Life is too short to worry about things that are really just small potatoes anyway.”

Both women had no idea that their sister Judy had even nominated them to be “Beautiful Women,” but ironically they received the call that they had been selected just 45 minutes before Steve’s funeral. What would their formally towel-snapping big brother think of all of this?

“I think he’d say ‘You little bleeps!’ ” says Elaine with a smile and tears in her eyes.

As for the future, they’ll continue to miss Steve and hope and pray for the best for Stefanie and other people facing cancer.

Joan says she’s looking forward to her hair growing back while Elaine says it’s actually been kind of liberating not worrying about hair care. Fortunately for both women there doesn’t seem to be any pressure on the home front.

“Our husband’s still think we’re beautiful,” says Joan.

Smart men.