Look up “quick study” or “compassion” in the dictionary, and if WMI Co-Presidents and sisters Lori and Traci Tapani had their way, you’d see a picture of Linda Miller, WMI’s office manager and 27-year employee. Linda’s concern for others—whether as employee, civic leader or volunteer—shines through all that she does.
At Wyoming Machine
In 1990 when Linda began her career with Wyoming Machine she was hired to enter customer orders and file blueprints. It was evident from the start that Linda had both the capacity and desire to learn new things and take on additional responsibilities. As office manager (since 1999), Linda keeps WMI running smoothly. She is responsible for all financials, safety and OSHA, visitor tours, company parties and much more, but her passion for learning amazes all. After just one computer class Linda continued absorbing all things computer. Now Linda also manages IT.
And while her intelligence keeps WMI going, it’s Linda’s heart that keeps WMI glowing. For example, when Linda heard that an employee was struggling with a health insurance claim, she immediately called the company to resolve the issue. That’s just her style—the quintessential compassionate go-getter—and everyone at WMI knows it.
According to Traci Tapani, “Linda is an amazing person. She has taken the skills she has gained through her work as our Office Manager and used them to benefit her community. She cares deeply about people and she is very generous with her time and talent. Our community is better because of her.”
In Civic Organizations
Linda’s caring attitude has given her leadership roles at church and civic causes, too. When her daughters were in Girl Scouts, Linda became a scout leader. “Whatever the kids are involved in, I am, too,” Linda said. That means, add sports, music and many other of her daughters’ endeavors to Linda’s volunteer list.
As a 34-year member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stacy, Linda has served as president of its council among other positions. Linda believes church mission trips to Ohio and Kentucky were especially rewarding. In those trips, church youth helped rehab condemned homes people lived in. “There were lots of tears from workers and residents when the homes were restored to code, allowing families to stay. These trips let my daughters and our youth see just how difficult some people have it. The kids returned home changed people,” Linda said.
Healing Hearts with Heartley Bears
Linda is also an election judge and treasurer of the Stacy Lions Club. But perhaps one of her most moving volunteer activities is the Heartley Bear Program. This program helps survivors grieve the loss of a loved one by converting their clothing into a teddy bear.
The program began when the funeral director of Forest Lake’s Mattson Funeral Home, Paul Hutchison, and his siblings, struggled with the death of their grandfather, Hartley. As they gathered his clothes, Paul saved his grandpa’s favorite flannel shirt and jeans. Paul’s grandmother made a teddy bear from the clothing for each grandchild. The process was so comforting that in 2009 Paul established the Heartley Bear Program at their funeral home—for anyone who has lost a loved one.
Two to three times a year Mattson Funeral Home becomes a teddy bear “factory.” Volunteers help survivors create teddy bears while healing their hearts. According to Linda, survivors bring in their loved one’s favorite garment. Volunteers then give survivors a pattern and scissors to cut out teddy bear parts. “That’s when the tears flow and grieving begins,” said Linda. “There’s something about cutting into the loved one’s clothing that triggers deep-felt emotions.” As they cut, they share stories that help replace sheer grief with treasured memories. Another volunteer crew then sews pieces together and returns them to be stuffed.
“They love their bears,” said Linda. “Not everything is perfect—definitely not store-bought. Sometimes the characteristics resemble the person who passed. It’s what survivors envisioned.” At the day’s close, survivors have their picture taken with their bear and sometimes with volunteers.
Linda’s most poignant occasion was when their own pastor’s wife came in. Their pastor of 24 years suffered a heart attack and died while driving to confirmation class. “We were so close to him after all those years.” It was a cathartic experience that brought them together with tears and stories. Linda said the love in the room was palpable.
The Heartley Bear program has been an astounding success. In 2009 the National Funeral Directors Association, with 10,000-plus members, named Mattson Funeral Home one of five homes across the country to receive its “Best of the Best Award.” Now funeral homes and other organizations across the country have similar programs. In 2012, President Obama issued The President’s Volunteer Service Award for the Heartley Bear program. In the eight years Linda has volunteered she has missed only three sessions—two were for the weddings of her daughters.
Like Mother; Like Daughters
As you may have guessed, Linda’s daughters are also compassionate, successful young women. Paula graduated from Augustana University—Sioux Falls, and is an RN who also served in the Peace Corps. Crystal graduated from Concordia College—Moorhead with a music degree. Linda and husband Doug are now empty nesters enjoying their grandson and awaiting the arrival of another in December. But don’t expect Linda to slow down any time soon. Besides WMI, there’s always someone—or an organization—that needs her help—and she’s more than eager to assist.