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08 July 2013
A Tribute: Christine (Christy) Ann Koolen
I read the obituary below last night and afterwards I couldn’t sleep… I mean I actually did fall asleep after going to bed, but was awoke with thoughts of both Christy and my son Luke at 2 AM and stayed awake until my alarm went off at 5:15 when it was time to get ready for work. My thoughts were complex (as you’d expect if they were enough to keep you up in the middle of the night) and the themes centered around the wonderful impact Ms. Koolen had on the world around her… it was obvious based upon the wonderful words chosen by her loved ones. I was also struck by the story about Christy in the Special Olympics… the visual created in my mind while reading those few sentences was nothing less than a moment of magic and I can only hope to someday make such a wonderful gesture of teamwork and support for others. Just amazing. And then my thoughts traveled to Luke. What will his future bring? What treasures does he hold in his heart that will someday be released for the betterment of our world? What does this mean for Matthew? What will he learn from his brother? How will they work together? Will he have the same kind of love for his brother that Christy’s siblings had for her? I have so much anticipation for our future. And then, when I still couldn’t sleep… I prayed. I prayed for Christy Koolen’s family, those she’s touched and is leaving behind and then I talked to God about Christy and shared how I hoped such a special person was playing a wonderful role in heaven and also that she had a beautiful reunion with her mother, no doubt a strong and loving woman who rebuked the system and an American culture who didn’t do a good job of supporting individuals with special needs back in the 50’s – what a wonderful mother she must have been! And then I prayed for my family… for Matthew and Luke and me and Dustin. I prayed to God that he would forgive our sins, our faults and that he’d continue to open our hearts to the future he has in store for us. I prayed that our family will find a way to make the most of our lives and that we will support, love and uphold one another until our days here are over and we are reunited in heaven. And then my mind reeled some more and finally I was up with a cup of coffee in hand, ready to start the day. I know I will continue to reflect on the full and fulfilling life of Christy Koolen and am grateful to her family for lifting her up in a way that shared such inspiration for me and highlighted the wonderful potential in store for baby Luke! Besides the fact that I’m a bit sleep deprived, I feel so blessed today!
Christine (Christy) Ann Koolen - November 20, 1952 - July 5, 2013
Christy Koolen was born to Martin and Althea Koolen in Lincoln, Neb., on Nov. 20, 1952. She was born with Down Syndrome and despite the doctor's harsh advice that she be placed in an "institution" she was welcomed into the family home by her loving parents and doting siblings Marty Jr, Kent, and Gretchen. She spent the next 60+ years being a constant source of joy and fulfillment to all who knew her and therefore loved her until she left this life with her usual quiet grace and dignity on July 5, 2013.
In 1959, Christy moved with her family to Billings, where she attended special education classes at Children's village (a program started by parents of Down Syndrome children) and then at Garfield School until she was 20 years old. She then attended the Sheltered Workshop (later COR Enterprises) for the rest of her life, where she achieved many commendations for perfect attendance while helping with projects stuffing envelopes, shredding paper, and other activities. She liked her teachers and friends at COR, especially her lifelong "boyfriend" Kenny Murphy, with whom she enjoyed having lunch together every day. In their younger years, Christy and Kenny enjoyed getting together to play records and to go bowling with their peers every Saturday morning at Center Lanes. When asked how she did at bowling, she always said she "got 4 strikes" because maybe that had happened once.
Christy loved to dance and never missed going to dances sponsored by the Yellowstone Association for Retarded Children (YARC). She and her mother were members of First Presbyterian Church, where they had many friends. Christy loved to listen to her many record albums and she loved to watch her favorite programs on TV. Somehow she knew what programs were on every channel even if she didn't watch them. She loved her black cocker spaniel "Patsy" and she never went anywhere without her Slinky in hand.
Christy accompanied her mom and dad nearly everywhere for most of their lives, and after her father Marty died in 1977, Christy and her mother Althea remained inseparable, living in the family home until Althea was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1996 and St John's Lutheran Home welcomed both Althea and Christy to continue living together at St John's. After Althea died in 2002, Christy was able to continue living at St John's, where she was "adopted" by the loving and caring staff (and the residents) as their own little sister. The nurses and residents loved hearing Christy giggle, loved making her laugh, loved to hear the beautiful music coming from her record player, and loved to dance with her in her room. When Christy herself recently fell victim to rapidly progressing Alzheimer's, she was lucky to be in the best possible place for the finest care from those who loved her.
Christy was preceded in death by her parents, Marty and Althea. She is survived by her brothers Marty Jr. (Jacquie) of Fremont, Neb., and Kent (Susan Nybo) of Billings; her sister Gretchen Wagner of Red Lodge; her nieces Heidi Wagner of Billings and Kim Salacinski of Denver, Colo.; and her nephews Jason Wagner of Billings, Jeff Koolen of Lincoln, Neb., and Marty IV ("Dutch") and Mike Koolen of Minneapolis, Minn. She is also survived by her extended family of "sisters" who cared for her at St John's, and will be missed by all who knew and loved her. She NEVER complained, even to the last, and was thankful for everything. She was a gift to us all, a blessing in our lives. She was that rare soul of gentle purity, devoid of anger, pride, jealousy, selfishness, or any of the emotions that demean the rest of us. She was pure innocence and joy, kindness and respect, happiness and compassion, humor and good-natured mischief, and wit that would surprise and delight us. She simply brought out the best in all who had the privilege to know her. As an example of her selflessness, when she was a young girl she entered a race at the Special Olympics and was actually winning the race when she stopped short of the finish line to turn around and happily applaud her fellow racers, cheering them as they crossed the finish line - ahead of her.
Cremation has taken place. A memorial service in Christy's honor will be held at the Kathy Lillis Chapel on the campus of St John's at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9. The family extends its heartfelt gratitude to the angels at St John's Lutheran Ministries for all the loving care and compassion they provided to our little sister all these years. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to St John's, COR, YARC, or the charity of your choice.
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