Promise Keepers

Neighborhood serves lemonade, cookies and patriotism.
Olivia and Ruby Gilbertson

A lemonade stand appears each Sept. 11 at the end of Sue Donkersgoed’s driveway in the Olympic Hills neighborhood of Eden Prairie. Many of the faces of those selling the lemonade beside Donkersgoed have changed, but the promise made years ago to annually remember those affected by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks endures.

“When tragedy strikes, in any shape or form, we need to come together as a community,” says Donkersgoed, a retired special education paraprofessional. “There is so much history that is forgotten, and we don’t want this to be forgotten. You can’t just do it one year and drop it.”

The neighborhood launched the first Olympic Hills 9/11 Lemonade Stand days after the attacks. Three families, including five children, set up a card table with lemonade and one tray of cookies at the end of Donkersgoed’s driveway. They raised $1,100. Donkersgoed’s son, Van, and other Eden Lake Elementary School children had been asked to donate “caring coins” at school after the tragedy.  Neighborhood parents thought it would mean more if their children earned it.

“Everybody was stunned,” Donkersgoed remembers. “People were first trying to absorb what happened. They gave $50, $100. We ran out of everything. People didn’t know what to do, so that was their way to help.” Their “little lemonade stand,” as Donkersgoed calls it, has raised more than $22,000 through 2016. Not bad, she adds, for being open two hours a year.

The original five children who manned the stand are now adults. Taking their place is a new generation of neighborhood kids, some born after Sept. 11 occurred. One of them, Kody Balon, 12, goes door-to-door with a platter of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade on a wagon. “I heard stories from my parents and teachers [about the attacks],” says Tommy Fenske, 14, another young helper. “This is a way to turn 9/11 into a good thing to help give back.”

Over the years, many causes have been supported, such as Jared Allen’s Homes For Wounded Warriors, Believet, which provides assistance dogs to disabled veterans, and the Veterans’ Voices program through the Minnesota Humanities Center. It raised $4,500 on the 10th anniversary of the attacks for the planting of four trees (and a brick with the group’s name on it) at the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. “Every year it’s been something very touching that we feel can make a difference,” Donkersgoed says.

Last year, two neighborhood men and ROTC members—John Kelly and Christopher Meyers—were deployed to Egypt. Money raised was used to send monthly care packages (October 2016–February 2017) to each member of the 78 soldiers in the Minnesota Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion and 135th Regiment.

This year benefited Sew Much Comfort, which makes adaptive clothing for injured veterans. “They sacrificed so much,” Donkersgoed says. “And to do something to make them feel a bit more comfortable is nice."  About 133 dozen cookies helped raise $3,500 this year (the second largest amount ever raised).

Donkersgoed has been the constant through the years. “She downplays it, but she’s the glue that’s held it together since Day 1,” says Van, now a law student, who was in second grade when he helped with the first lemonade stand. “The gravity of her role in this speaks volumes about her patriotism. Her father, who was a World War II veteran, instilled that in her.”

Jessie Farrell is one of the original five and was a second-grader at the time of the attacks. She now works for Ernst & Young in Minneapolis. “It was something very important as a young kid to be involved in,” she says. “It helped me understand [the attacks] better then.”