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ND 'Elvis' show turns into musical memorial after lifelong fan dies the night before

Mary Stockeland of Cooperstown, N.D., in the final stages of her fight with colon cancer, was looking forward to seeing her favorite Elvis tribute artist, Joseph Hall, perform in her hometown. She died just hours before the show.

Elvis
Joseph Hall, an Elvis Tribute artist performed in Cooperstown, ND on Sunday, Aug. 22. Chris Flynn / The Forum

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COOPERSTOWN, N.D. — ‘Elvis’ put on a two-hour show for the people of this northeastern North Dakota town, but a seat front and center of the stage was conspicuously empty.

A lifelong Elvis fan, Mary Stockeland, 66, was supposed to see Joseph Hall, her favorite Elvis tribute artist and finalist on the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” perform in her hometown on Sunday, Aug. 22.

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In the final stages of a fight with colon cancer, she was too sick to travel to Hall’s closest show in Mitchell, S.D., on Saturday, so he decided to bring the road show to her the next day.

The event went forward as planned but without its guest of honor.

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Mary Stockeland died in her home just hours before, surrounded by family and close friends.
In daughter Ashley Stockeland's mind, a local pastor’s wife said it best... that only Mary could have arranged for ‘Elvis’ to be at her celebration of life.

"We wanted her here one more day. That was not God's will, so here we are," Ashley Stockeland said.

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Joe Hall
Joseph Hall, an Elvis tribute artist performed in Cooperstown, ND on Sunday, Aug. 22 as tribute to one his fans, Mary Stockeland, who passed away the day before the show due to cancer. Chris Flynn / The Forum

On August 11, Mary Stockeland told The Forum it was hard to believe Hall was coming to Cooperstown for her.

“He wants to spend time with me…. because it will be my last chance to see him,” she said at the time, her body frail and her voice coming out as a whisper.

She was hoping the community would turn out in a big way to see Hall perform, and that wish came true.

More than 250 people from Cooperstown and surrounding towns packed the gym at Griggs County Central High School to hear songs that were specially chosen by Mary.

They included "Blue Hawaii," "Memories," "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Fools Rush In" and "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.”

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Hall threw stuffed bears into the audience at that point, and a large stuffed bear was placed in the chair where Mary would have sat.

Mary's friendship with Joseph Hall and his family dates back more than 10 years.

She and her best friend, Tammy Pedersen, traveled to his shows in Branson, Mo., and with Hall to performances in Hawaii and The Bahamas.

"She always brought such a spirit of sensitivity and (was) just a very joyful person. I'll miss that," Hall said, during the show’s intermission.

He got word of her imminent passing at his show in South Dakota Saturday night.

He took a few moments to make a final phone call to Mary, who by then was unresponsive; although the family is certain she could hear everything that was said to her before her passing at 10:52 p.m.

Mary's husband, Don Stockeland, couldn't believe the support the family received both from the community and Hall and his family.

"It's overwhelming," he said, tears brimming in his eyes.

Even with Mary's death, there was never any doubt as to whether the Cooperstown show would go on.

"She wouldn't have wanted it any other way," Ashley Stockeland said.

Mary Stockeland
Mary Stockeland of Cooperstown, N.D., is shown holding her favorite Elvis memorabilia and wearing a signed scarf from Elvis tribute artist Joseph Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Chris Flynn / The Forum

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