Tom Sand and The Olympic Circles.
The day after Joanie died, I got this email from a long time friend living in St. Paul. I was reminded of it last night while I was watching the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, and on the floor of the stadium the players were forming the Olympic rings.
In the practice of journalism, this would be known as a sidebar to the main story, which you know about, but I found that in writing the narrative for Where The Popsicles Are, there were many other stories such as this, that can add color to the fabric I’m trying to weave, and so to put the email in perspective some background is in order.
The email came from Lee Egerstrom, a long time writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is referring in the body of his text to Tom Sand, one of my closest friends. At the time of Joanie’s final weeks, Tom was also facing a difficult health battle himself, and I wasn’t able to keep him updated on Joanie’s situation.
I had known Tom since 1970 and first met him when I was a reporter in Fargo, and he was handling press for Bob Bergland who was running for Congress from the 7th district of Minnesota against Republican Odin Langen. Bergland won, and Tom went to Washington with Bob, where he would stay, and would go with Bergland when he was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by Jimmy Carter.
While Tom was in Washington, I first met Lee, and later after the election of 1980 when Reagan won, Tom came back to Minnesota, and Lee, who was working for Knight-Ridder ended up at the Pioneer press, we saw a lot of each other over the years. Suffice it to say, we were good friends, and Joanie and I had stayed with Tom on many occasions over the years, whether we crashed in his small apartment on Wabasha in downtown St. Paul, or at his third floor apartment on St. Peter north of the Capitol building in St. Paul.
Now then, during the course of Tom’s illness, which was very serious, Lee had a distribution list and would send us all emails on Tom’s progress or situation as it was warranted.
The email he sent out on April 10th, the day after Joanie died, talks about “…the importance of friends…”
“Dear friends, I didn’t go visit Tom today. I chose not because I knew some of you were planning on visits, and because I have information that I’m not ready to share with Tom at this point. It would have been difficult to be looking at Tom and withholding information from him.
“Here’s the background. Those of you who have been on the distribution list for several weeks may remember that at one point I commented it is a challenge to turn on my computer. So many of you have problems in addition to Tom’s health. I’ve respected confidences and marveled at how people with very personal problems can still open their hearts and minds each day to Tom and the large circle of friends that know each other in part because of Tom.
“A message came in today that I’ve been fearing, and expecting. Joanie Wigen, a wonderful woman and wife of a good friend of Tom’s and myself, had died in Bismarck after 12 years of battling cancer. She worked for the current governor of North Dakota until her health forced her to quit on Feb. 29, and previously she had worked as a key aide to former Gov. Ed Schafer, the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Where Tom and I know her is through her home life; she was the wife of Bob Kallberg, a long time North Dakota journalist and former press secretary to Gov. Al Olson, who is also on Tom’s distribution list.
“I’ve sent my dear friend Bob my condolences, and hope to be able to get with him soon in the near future. This loss makes me pause, and I want to reflect a bit on the importance of friends, of which Joanie had many.
“Tom used to explain a theory that the concentric rings of the Olympic logo are as descriptive of life as they are an acknowledgement of the continents and its people on Earth. If you are fortunate enough to walk around those rings, he has said, you will have met everyone worth knowing within your lifetime. Tom, Joanie and Bob are among those precious people who have taken a walkabout around those concentric circles.
“Most of you who know Tom, but not all of his friends, know that Tom can say a lot of sarcastic and humorous things about politics. Scratch away the nonsense, however, and Tom has his own ways of evaluating people and making friends. Integrity, caring hearts, love for life and all peoples, are high on that list; partisan politics is pretty irrelevant. That’s why about half the people on Tom’s distribution list are bona fide Republicans, such as Gov. Olson and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Gary Frink. You can include Bob and Joanie from Bismarck in the ranks.
“These links of friendship are not easy to explain to people who haven’t been in politics, or like Bob and myself, been journalists standing on the sidelines, scratching dumbly and impersonating Forest Gump while policy makers or events change the world right before our eyes. If you’ve had such enlightening experiences, you understand why Tom and Bob would become such good friends, and why Bob would meet and love Joanie. They enrich all our lives as we journey around the concentric circles.”
Sadly, our friend Tom unexpectedly died early last year of complications from an infection, and I still miss being able to stop and see him at his “Bookhouse” where he retired to live in his parent’s home in Wendell, MN just south of Fergus Falls. The house was an original Sears Roebuck home. The Bookhouse he built to hold his considerable library collection, and serve as a meeting place for his esoteric prayer meetings or seminars on some arcane observance.
Open to people of all political stripes along with locals from Wendell, his ‘meetings’ were a mere pretext for getting together for drinks, food, stimulating conversation, and taking a “walkabout around those concentric circles.”