VERNDALE -- “It’s not supposed to be this way,” was a phrase Shanna (Keskitalo) Tuinstra would tell her husband Mike anytime someone tried to return a favor or act of kindness.
Shanna was known to go out of her way to help others, but the thought of receiving help just seemed out of place. It was equally difficult for her husband to accept help when fellow farmer Chris Neal told him a group of farmers would like to help him harvest his corn crop just days after Shanna passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, Nov. 2 at the age of 40.
Mike eventually allowed the help, understanding the group of area farmers, many members of the Wadena County Farm Bureau, were just trying to lighten his load in his time of great loss. So Saturday, Nov. 7, the roads leading to the Tuinstra’s farm filled with combines, tractors, grain carts and semis as over 20 farmers and a total of over 50 volunteers came to see the harvest completed in short order.
With a half dozen combines on the move and a steady line of gravity boxes unloading the abundant corn kernels, the work was swift. The crew even had time to come in for a lunch served up with the help of Ag Country Farm Credit Services. After a quick bite, the farmers were back out to finish the job before dark.
“People used to do this all the time back in the day,” Tuinstra said of the farmers getting together to help complete the work. That was a time, now seemingly generations ago, when everyone wanted to help each other complete the harvest rather than compete to see who could wrap up first. The camaraderie of it all was a heartwarming feeling for Tuinstra to watch. And that’s about all they let him do, watch.
The harvest and field work were largely work that Shanna and Mike would have completed together. It was work she was proud of and her help allowed Mike to haul grain commercially to bring in additional income for the family of three, which includes their 13-year-old daughter Haylee.
“We’re a team together,” Mike said of their marriage and work relationship.
Farming was one of Shanna’s passions and one she sought to share with future generations as she and Mike were instrumental in starting the Ag in the Classroom program in Wadena County. They traveled from school to school to talk about their farm and the importance of farming. The visit often included a slice of pizza for kids, which served as a good example of all the ingredients a farm supplies to make the popular food possible. Shanna wanted future generations to have a firm understanding of where their food was coming and the work that goes into getting it on the plate.
“Shanna really took that and ran with it,” according to Wadena County Farm Bureau president Craig Neal. Craig was one of the many present on Saturday along with his brother Chris Neal, who served as the main contact for the farmers looking to help be a part of the day.
Shanna’s drive to teach children extended into her church, the Wadena Alliance Church, where she was a leader in the churches Awana ministry, a Sunday School teacher and children’s church coordinator. Those who worked closely with Shanna were impressed at her desire to serve and her love for Jesus.
“It was just one of her things, she wanted to see kids have a personal relationship with Jesus,” according to Nancy Roth, a member of the same church and member of another farm family that knew Shanna well.
If there was a need, Shanna was one of the first to step up to fill it. But she’s also remembered by her ability to light up a room.
“She just had a big personality,” Craig Neal said. “Always in a good mood.”
“She was just an amazing person that could light up a room with her smile and laugh,” according to Shanna’s friend Carrie Halvorson who was also connected to Shanna through farming and church families.
“She loved Jesus and she loved people and she showed it openly,” Halvorson said. Halvorson’s husband Braden was manning a tractor and grain cart on Saturday. He’s helped the family in farming in the past.
“She always had something to say,” Mike said. Now he and Haylee are noticing just how quiet it is without her around.
Mike is also realizing now more than ever just how much Shanna handled in their marriage. He’s finding himself saying those words that Shanna used to say, that "it wasn’t supposed to be like this." While it’s difficult losing her so soon, Mike said he was quickly able to come to the realization that he was lucky to have had 13 years of marriage with her. Dwelling on the loss wasn't bringing him peace.
“I’m so grateful that he (God) waited as long as he did, that we could have 13 years together,” Mike said.
Mike said Shanna died of natural causes. She was at one point during the night having difficulty breathing, then with her husband and daughter holding her, helping her relax, she stopped breathing. Mike said she had an enlarged heart, which might have played a part. Emergency crews were on scene within 10 minutes but were unable to revive her. Mike takes comfort in the fact that she was in no pain when she left them.
Mike firmly believes his wife’s passing was part of God’s plan. He said it was totally out of her character that she didn’t have a plan for the children’s Christmas program this year. While she usually plans a trip each year for the family, this year she was drawing a blank about what they should do.
“There’s about six or seven of those things that have happened,” Tuinstra said. “It was planned. God had it written down.”
While it was relatively short, Shanna no doubt lived a fulfilling life -- one that she packed full of things she cared about. The generations of children she worked with will no doubt take with them a portion of that passion she impressed on them.
The public funeral service for Shanna Tuinstra will be at 11 a.m., Friday, Nov. 13, at the Alliance Church in Wadena, with Pastor Vaughn White presiding.
A public visitation with family and friends will be held at the Wadena Alliance Church on Thursday from 4 - 7 p.m. with a time of prayer and sharing at 7 p.m. Visitation will resume on Friday from 9:30 a.m. until the time of the service.