Bonnie (Sanderson) Albertson celebrated life, and it showed. And when she talked of death she made it known that she wanted a celebration after she died. Little did she, or any of us, know that she would be present for a celebration in her last days of life.
Bonnie (Sanderson) Albertson, 74, of Spirit Lake, Iowa, died Sept. 1, 2017, at her daughter and son-in-law's cabin on Spirit Lake, a place dear to her heart. After an extended hospitalization and illness, she was placed on hospice a week prior. While on hospice, she was visited by many friends and family members and surrounded by singing, story-telling, bubble blowing, sunsets on the lake, and boundless love. At the time of her death, she was with her four children who were singing her one of her favorite songs, “Edelweiss.” A memorial service was held Oct. 5, at Mini-Wakan State Park in Spirit Lake, Iowa, followed by a celebration, like Bonnie wanted.
Bonnie Lee Sanderson was born on Feb. 23, 1943, to Florence (Johnson) and Daniel Sanderson. She grew up in Estherville, Iowa, and returned to the area after retirement. She graduated with a B.A. in English from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, a town she frequently visited and lived in for a short time later in life. At Luther, she met Doug Albertson ‘66. They married in 1966 and had four beloved children: Sonia, Kristin, Becky and Ross. They later divorced but remained good friends throughout her life.
Bonnie spent most of her professional life in Anamosa, Iowa, and nearby communities, where she was known for her compassion, welcoming nature and dedication to the “underdog.” She taught middle school speech and English in Anamosa for 20 years and had many wonderful memories of this time. Along with working full-time, she rarely missed her children's sporting or music events, and there were plenty of them. Her home was always welcoming to their countless friends along with her many old and new friends and extended family. She was a devoted mother and dear friend to many but also a dedicated professional. Despite the busyness of her life, in the late ‘80s Bonnie went back to school to get an MSW from the University of Iowa and became a school social worker with the Grant Wood AEA, serving surrounding communities. She worked tirelessly to advocate for students in need. She helped families during the farm crisis. She helped establish a domestic violence project in Jones County and welcomed victims of violence into her home for safe housing. She was also an active member of the Democratic Party and the Lutheran church. After retirement, she moved back to the Lakes region to take care of her mother, with the added bonus of being near family and Spirit Lake. While there she taught at Buena Vista College, and even led a course on death and dying. She also worked as a counselor at Forest Ridge Youth Services.
Bonnie was a bright light in the world. If you met her, chances are, you wouldn't forget her. She couldn't help but offer you her last dollar, something to eat, or one of the origami birds she had made. She received great satisfaction from helping others and brightening up their day. She was generous and compassionate beyond measure, some might say to a fault. Her hobbies were too many to list, but one can attempt to name most of them. Anything creative seemed to call to her. She sketched from a young age. She sewed; she cooked a lot; she made paper crafts to beat the band. She even created practical tools to help with daily tasks affected by Parkinson's disease. She loved music and going to musicals. She enjoyed reading, mysteries especially. She loved watching movies, “Sense and Sensibility” being among her favorites. She enjoyed lively philosophical conversation and Ole and Lena jokes. And she was up for almost any adventure, from standing on a horse as a young child to flying planes as a young woman, to downhill and cross country skiing in her adulthood. But her greatest joy came from spending time with her children, grandchildren, extended family and her family of friends. Many of these joyful times were spent at Spirit Lake: swimming, water skiing, sailing, playing cards, singing around camp fires, watching the sunset and making good food, in excess, of course. Chances are, she used plenty of butter, cream and sugar, like any good Norwegian.
Bonnie was a model of strength and courage throughout her life but especially in the last 14 years during which she lived gracefully with chronic pain and the progression of Parkinson's disease. Many of her days were partially filled with pain and struggle. She could have given up countless times, but because she had such a love of life, friends, family and especially her dear grandchildren, she kept bringing light to this world. And those who got a glimpse of that light know what a blessing it was. Her joyful spirit, unconditional love and a titch of that stubborn strength will live on in her loved ones.
Along with support from family and friends over the years, Bonnie was so grateful for the kindness and love she received from staff who often became friends at the various hospitals, assisted living homes and retirement homes where she lived or was helped. Much gratitude goes out to all of them. Most recently she was lovingly cared for at Keelson Harbour Assisted Living in Spirit Lake, The Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Hawkeye Care Center in Milford, and the Spencer Hospital and Hospice. All of them are full of “angels on earth” as Bonnie called them.
Bonnie was able to spend the last nine days of her life at her beloved Spirit Lake. She was able to breathe the lake air, bask in the sunshine and feel the love of family members and friends. And she was able to express her love. As she said to her grandchildren, “I know you love me, and you know I love you. That's all that matters.”
She was preceded in death by her beloved, father and mother, Daniel and Florence Sanderson.
Bonnie is survived by her children: Sonia (Albertson) Sather ’89 (Ryan Sather ’89) of Spencer, Iowa; Kristin Albertson ‘90 (Tim Hayes ‘88) of Decorah, Iowa’ Ross Albertson ’97 (Amy) of Hastings, Minn.; and Becky Albertson ‘97 (Jason Mohr) of Helena, Mont.; grandchildren: Lydia, Lauren Sather ‘18, Matthew, Rachel, Gus, Arlo, Max, Solveig, Luke, Libby and Espen; brothers: Bill (Nancy) Sanderson, Jack (Donna) Sanderson and Paul (Jane) Sanderson; countless beloved nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, cousins, and friends.
“All you need is love,” Bonnie sang in her final days. And she loved us all!
Memorial funds can be directed to the following organizations (please include "in tribute to Bonnie Albertson"): Hospice of Spencer Hospital, in care of Spencer Regional Healthcare Foundation, 1200 First Ave. E, Spencer, IA 51301 or online at www.spencerhospital.org; The Michael J. Fox Foundation (for Parkinson's research) at www.michaeljfox.org, or call in at 1-800-708-7644, or mail to Grand Central Station, P.O. Box 4777, New York, NY 10163; Upper Des Moines Opportunity Inc., helping families in need in NW Iowa. Clay County Outreach: 714 10th Ave. E., Suite 2, Spencer, IA 51301, or Dickinson County Outreach: 1575, 18th St., Spirit Lake, IA, 51360.