FARGO — Empathy is a rare trait, but Jane Lundeen seemed to have more than enough.

Though she left her college nursing program decades ago to raise three daughters, Lundeen eventually found her way back into the health care field. She started with part-time clerical duties at Family HealthCare’s Homeless Health Services, rising to the role of clinic director during her 20-year career.

Lundeen died Feb. 22 following a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease — but her family and friends aren't letting that mark the end of her mission. One of Lundeen’s daughters, Trisha Issendorf, a fifth grade teacher for Fargo Public Schools, says helping people in need was a big part of her mother’s life.

“She took great pride in this job — she was a very proud woman,” says Issendorf. “There was a quote that she kind of lived by: ‘There, but for the Grace of God, go I.’ The root of it is, it could have been her. She always kept that in her mind, that it could have been her that was homeless.”

Continuing her work

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After Lundeen’s death, Issendorf decided she needed to commemorate her mother’s life. Issendorf says she had originally considered traditional memorials such as a statue or plaque, but it didn’t seem right.

Instead, the family decided to take a more unique approach to a tribute, one that would honor Lundeen’s love of writing and dedication to helping the homeless. Memorial money raised by local elementary staff along with several local families was used to purchase 20 copies of a children’s book called “Homeless” by artist and author Mike Boyce. The books were then donated to schools in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“I feel really good about it,” Issendorf says. “I can feel that connection, and that her work will continue to impact our community through this book.”

Mike Boyce's "Homeless." Amazon / Special to The Forum
Mike Boyce's "Homeless." Amazon / Special to The Forum

“Homeless” is a picture book aimed toward children between 2 and 10 years old. Boyce’s goal with the book was to build kids' empathy and understanding for the homeless population. During his time at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, Boyce says he was shocked by the number of people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s on every corner and it’s on every street,” Boyce says. “It’s in the laundromat, it’s in the restaurants, it’s on the public transportation. There are so many homeless people, it surrounded my school. The camps are everywhere. For years it’s been like this.”

To research for the book, Boyce met with multiple people experiencing homelessness. They told him the worst part  was the way children looked at them while they walked by.

Boyce spoke to mothers, who told him they try to shield their children from encounters with the homeless.

“We can’t shield these children,” says Boyce. “It’s in their lives and they are exposed to it, so I wanted to do a book to explain it.”

When Issendorf asked Boyce to sign the copies of the books, he offered to write an inscription instead. Issendorf agreed and he went above and beyond to write a passage honoring Lundeen in all 20 copies.

Author Mike Boyce wrote this inscription in copies of his book, "Homeless" to honor Jane Lundeen. Special to The Forum
Author Mike Boyce wrote this inscription in copies of his book, "Homeless" to honor Jane Lundeen. Special to The Forum

According to Issendorf, the personalized inscriptions made the tribute to her mother even more meaningful. She said that if the books even help one person, it will have been a fitting memorial for her late mother.

“I love to use books in my classrooms for social subjects,” says Issendorf. “I think that the way society is right now, and the social struggles we do have — I just think addressing social issues like that is so powerful right now in today’s world.”

Jane Lundeen died Feb. 22, 2019. Special to The Forum
Jane Lundeen died Feb. 22, 2019. Special to The Forum

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Logan Peterson is an MSUM apprentice with the Marcil Center for Innovative Journalism. He is majoring in English and mass communications and will graduate in May 2019.