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Voyageur's Best Features of 2005

John and Joyce Dufresne

Blessings north of McGregor
 
Two area organizations extend blessings to a local family
 
by John Grones and Kerry Nelson  |  December 27, 2005
 

The holiday season is about the gift of giving and there are several local organizations that take time out of their busy schedules and help families in need. Most recently, two familiar organizations, the Minnewawa Sportsmen’s Club and the ANGELS, have been busy helping out a family living in the Lake Minnewawa area, the Dufresnes, Joyce and her son John.

“The Dufresnes have done so much for the club,” said Minnewawa Sportsmen’s Club president Gary Vorlicky and his wife Kathy. “When we found out John’s three-wheel bike broke down, we came up with an idea to buy him a new one.”

Many residents living on Lake Minnewawa know John and it is common to see him riding his bike around Sheshebe Point. “He hasn’t been able to ride the past two summers at all,” said his mother Joyce. “His three-wheel bike is beyond repair.”

John has an unusual condition. He developed scarlet fever when he was 2 1⁄2 years old which resulted in a brain injury. He also has obsessive compulsive disorder. The brain injury has made it impossible for John to balance a two-wheel bike. The family recalls the early recommendations from professionals. “Mom and dad were told to put John in an institution and forget that she had ever had him,” said John’s sister Barb (Rian). “He would be a vegetable the rest of his life,” they were told.

“And I said, ‘No way,’” Joyce firmly stated.

From that point on, John had to learn how to eat, crawl, sit up and walk, thus there were 15 1⁄2 years of intense rehabilitation. “The part of the brain that was damaged affected his motor skills,” added Barb. “He could not do things like hold a crayon or balance himself.”

Fortunately for the Dufresnes, a federal grant allowed John to receive tutoring in junior high school. This service helped with such things as telling time and grasping the concept of numbers. The grant also allowed for the purchase of teaching aids for special needs kids. “So in some ways, John paved the way for other special needs children to attend public school,” said Barb.

John eventually graduated from White Bear Lake High School in 1973. He was the manager of the track team, for which he received a letter.

Soon after John’s graduation from high school, the family moved to Lake Minnewawa in February of 1974 and purchased Greenwood Lodge and Resort. They ran the resort for five years and then Joyce’s husband Gordon was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). Gordon passed away in 1984. The family moved into one of the cabins at Greenwood and they have lived there ever since.

Now, 21 years later, Joyce (75) and her son John (51) still live on the lake. John now takes care of his mother after all those years she cared for him. Joyce had open heart surgery in 1999 which resulted in many complications. She was on peritoneal dialysis for two years as a result of kidney failure... “and then I had the miracle... my kidneys started working again,” said Joyce.

Because of arthritis and chronic back pain, it has been difficult for Joyce to get around. “That is why John is such a big help to me. He helps with many household chores like laundry, getting the mail and yardwork.”

As for getting around, that’s were another local organization, ‘the ANGELS’, stepped in. “I’ll tell you what, they (ANGELS) do so much for me. I have to go to the Aitkin Hospital every other week and someone from ANGELS, mainly Jean Vorlicky, has been driving me.”

The ANGELS also put plastic up on Joyce’s screen porch this past fall and they are always stopping by to see how she is doing. “They often offer to pick up things at the store and help me in any way that they can,” Joyce added.

The Dufresne family is very appreciative when it comes to the efforts of these two local organizations and it was a special day on Thursday, December 22, when members of the Minnewawa Sportsmen’s Club showed up at their home. Gary and Kathy Vorlicky presented John with his new three-wheel bike.

Judging by the smiles and John’s reaction when he saw the new bike, it was truly a special Christmas present. “Wow! This is nice,” said John when he first saw the bike. He then looked over every inch, commenting on all the new features. “This bike has a better brake and it has much better tires,” he said... “and I like the reflectors.”

John then proceeded to request that the handle bars be raised in preparation for riding this spring. “This was a welcome surprise,” he said “and thank you very much!”

This article first appeared in the December 27, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.