BEMIDJI, Minn. – Ann Nicole Nelson always loved coming to the Concordia Language Villages as a teenager.
Now, the memory of her will be there forever.
On Friday, a garden at the villages was dedicated to Nelson, who was 30 years old and a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center when she was killed in the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Gary and Jenette Nelson sponsored the garden in memory of their daughter, who traveled from their home in Stanley, N.D., to Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Village, for six summers as a youth.
Friday's dedication also is part of Gary and Jenette Nelson's commitment to honoring their late daughter and her "bucket list."
Things to do
Among Ann's possessions returned to her parents after 9/11 was a laptop computer. But the Nelsons didn't even open the laptop for several years after her death. When they did, they found in that computer a list of things Ann still wanted to accomplish in her life.
"Jenette was in possession of Ann's computer and found "top 100,'" Gary Nelson said. "Of course, she thought it was a bunch of songs, and she never opened it. Finally, she opened it and there it was, her bucket list."
"Learn a foreign language" was No. 9 on the list, and "Learn about other cultures" was No. 31, and since those are core missions of Concordia Language Villages, Gary and Jenette decided to honor Ann by doing something special for Skogfjorden.
The new garden is a symbolic portrayal of the Seven Sisters mountain range on the coast in western Norway. The garden has seven circles of paver stones, each of them symbolizing a summit of the range and a virtue people should look to possess in their lives.
"(The garden is) a good way to remember our mission for the language villages in terms of global citizenship and understanding different languages and cultures," said Martin Graefe, senior director of the villages. "It's a place where people can reflect and think about their role in the world."
Gary Nelson said he has worked to fulfil several other items on his daughter's list, including a visit to the New York Public Library.
"I'm kind of nibbling my way through it," he said.
A few years ago, the New York Says Thank You Foundation built Annie's House, a ski lodge in Bottineau, N.D., as a tribute to Ann's item No. 7: "Buy a house in North Dakota."
Also on the list was "Helicopter-ski with my dad" (No. 23). Annie's House is an all-accessible lodge and focuses on providing lessons to the disabled. Gary Nelson was there to watch the first skiers go down the hill, he said.
Touching many lives
At Friday's dedication, Gary Nelson humbly said he had little to do with the garden's development.
"I did not interfere with the creativity of the staff here at Skogfjorden," he said. "They came up with this thing, kicked it around and it's great, the Seven Sisters. I think it's fantastic."
The dedication featured Norwegian songs and dances by the villagers, some are nearing the end of their stay at Skogfjorden and others are just starting their time at camp. About 2,000 people were at the villages Friday for International Day, including 1,500 villagers and staff and 500 parents and guests.
Graefe said the new garden has a great significance for the villagers there now, and it will be a good lesson to teach for years to come.
"It's always special to know that when a past participant in our programs has had an impact on so many people's lives," he said.
"Obviously with her passing away with 9/11, she has touched many people's lives through that story but also now, through her experience at Skogfjorden, the lives of all the villages here who will understand why this garden is here in the future."