A day of remembering and rebuilding

Scott Wagar


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On May 17, under the bluest sky and warm spring sun, it was a day of remembering and rebuilding the hopes of a nation during a special ceremony which was held in honor of 9/11 victim, Ann Nicole Nelson, at the Bottineau Winter Park.

On this day, which was the birthday of Ann Nicole, a large group of individuals witnessed the groundbreaking ceremony of Annie’s House, a chalet which will be the first adaptive ski facility in North Dakota to teach disabled children, young adults and wounded warriors how to ski.

The event started with Bottineau’s American Legion Post #42 presenting the colors. Courtney Smith, the VSA Arts Young Soloist of the Year in North Dakota, who was born blind and faces many challenges because she was born 12 weeks premature, sang the National Anthem.

The program brought numerous dignitaries to the event, which included one unique individual, Jeff Parness, the founder of the “New York Says Thank You Foundation” who played a major role in making Anne’s House a reality.

“Today is all about remembering and rebuilding. It’s about remembering that 41 years ago today, a beautiful young girl, Ann Nicole Nelson, was born into this world. It’s about remembering who she was as a person, how she traveled the world, and not to tourist destinations, but to poor neighborhoods in such places like Peru,” Parness said. “This day is about rebuilding. Rebuilding hope for the Nelsons, for those who knew Anne and for all these special and precious kids, young adults and wounded warriors who will one day ski here.

“At the end of the day, it is all about remembering and rebuilding Annie’s dreams and her ability to make an impact on this world.”

Parness added that in September around 200 to 300 New York firemen who were part of 9/11, Ground Zero workers, 9/11 families and volunteers will be coming to the Bottineau Winter Park to construct Annie’s House with others from the local area, all in the name and honor of Ann.    

Gary and Jenette Nelson, the father and mother of Ann Nicole, were also present at the ceremony. Jenette gave the keynote address to those in attendance and she spoke about what she experienced on Sept. 11, the greatness of her Ann and how Annie’s House came to be.

“When I saw the North Tower collapse, knowing that Ann was in there, I sat on the edge of my bed frozen in space. I could not cry, or scream, or speak,” Jenette said. “Broken fragments of phrases fluttered through my brain, like, ‘Bats in hollow caves.’ Occasionally, one clean, simple thought superseded those phases, and, it was this, ‘This is your destiny, this is an important event and much good will come to the earth because of it. Ann has chosen to be part of it.’ That thought comforted me at a time that was very, very dark for me.”

During her dark times, a friend encouraged Jenette to express herself in words through a journal, which she felt would take Jenette’s darkness away. So, each night as she lay in bed, not being able to sleep, Jenette would get up and write the phases fluttering in her to clear her mind.”

“If I could see them, I could conquer them. So, I sat at the computer and began to type. Much to my amazement those phrases flowed easily onto my screen and they made sense. And, even more amazingly, they rhymed without my intention of being that they should. This process went on for over a year and at the end of that time 15 or 16 poems came to be,” Jenette expressed. “It was interesting because these poems seemed to isolate and address my different areas of pain as I suffered through my lost. And I found that through reading them, and writing them, my psyche began to heal.”

Since writing the poems, Jenette’s verses have been placed into a book, which have been read by numerous people, including Parness, who called Gary and Jenette after reading the poems and asked them to come to Lake Metigoshe to speak with him. During their conversation at the lake, the idea of Annie’s House was established due to Ann’s love of skiing and assisting individuals in a humanitarian way.

Jennette ended her address with a poem she wrote early that morning as she prepared to come to the groundbreaking ceremony.

Forty-one years ago today- Ann Nicole Nelson came to live upon this earth.

Her family and friends still remember and celebrate her birth.

She brought love and joy to all who knew her and honor to our name.
She believed we should do no harm to others- treat everyone the same.

She loved a challenge- she turned struggles into fun
Life was a great adventure -best shared with everyone

Today her heart is glad -her spirit laughs with glee
As she thinks about her house where we will come to ski

She loved the winter and the snow-
The wind rushing through her hair-
The racing down the slopes to
Meet friends and family
Waiting for her there.

So today we begin a new adventure
As we celebrate her birth
May her name and love of others
Live long upon this earth.

After Jenette finished the poem, students from the Griggs-Steele-Traill special education unit came forward and broke ground for Anne’s House, which was followed by a music selection by Smith as kids and adults release 41 balloons in honor of Ann’s 41st birthday.

For Ann, life was about helping others and assisting them in finding joy, especially when it came to children with special needs, which in North Dakota there are 130,000 individuals with special needs, of that number, 13,000 of these individuals are children. As the children broke the ground with their golden shovels where Annie’s House will be erected, there was no doubt by those in attendance that Ann’s presence was there, and that her presence was filled with happiness for what the chalet would mean for many people with special needs in the future.