From Sherry Pitney, CEO
Our dear friend, Nora Sandahl, died Dec. 3, 2021. Let me tell you a story of how God used Nora and her family.
In early 1996, the Mission had outgrown our Madison Street location and we were forming plans for the facility you know today. This included raising money — more money than we had ever imagined.
I first met Nora Aspling Sandahl and her first husband, Gene Aspling, on a cold day that April. They were relatives of one of our Mission board members; Gene had helped build Camcar into one of the world’s largest screw manufacturers and literally helped win World War II.
My husband, Perry, had invited the Asplings to come and tour the Mission. We hadn’t even started asking people to give yet, because the plan wasn’t finished. Perry showed them drawings of his dream for a multi-building campus covering a city block. He estimated it might cost $6 million (more than $10 million in 2022 dollars).
We continued to talk and dream with Gene and Nora over the next couple of months, though we never spoke about any specific amount we hoped they would give. A couple of months later, they invited Perry to their home for lunch — and gave him a check for $500,000. It was the largest gift the Mission had ever received. Then, not long afterward, they doubled it to $1 million.
In the book, Rescuing the Raggedy Man: The Story of The Rockford Rescue Mission, Perry said this:
“To a place that started on 9 dollars and 63 cents, and for the better part of 30 years had struggled for everything it had, this was a miracle. It affirmed to us that God was behind the dream that we now called Hope Place.”
Nora and I would both lose our husbands in the following decade (she then married Lorrie Sandahl in 1999). We became dear friends — heart friends, who understood and confided in each other. Always unassuming, she loved to meet for lunch at Steak ’n Shake, or for dinner at Sunrise Family Restaurant in Byron. We connected over faith, good books, good music … and flowers. I’ll always treasure the memory of our walks and talks on the garden path at her home.
Nora never missed an opportunity to express gratitude. I kept so many of her hand-written notes, thanking me for something I had done or given to her. She shared concern for the heavy load I carried, especially during the lowest time of my life. She never ended a visit or phone call without letting me know how much she was praying for me. What a comfort to know she believed in me.
Nora left a wonderful ministry legacy, too. She loved the Mission and the precious people we care for. In fact, she volunteered in our mailing department and on our Capital Campaign Committee. She and Lorry have been continually generous, never seeking any public recognition.
In 2019, at the Mission’s 55th anniversary celebration, Nora received the Epiphany Award. It’s a high honor the Mission gives to an individual or family who have gone above and beyond in shining the light of Christ on the homeless by sharing their time, talent and treasure.
So many generous people, churches, businesses and organizations have helped the Mission serve as a 105,000 square-foot lighthouse on West State Street. Tens of thousands of people have been fed, sheltered and cared for with the love of Christ. Gene and Nora’s early vision, deep faith and incredible generosity set it all in motion.
I already miss Nora terribly … but her legacy and her kingdom impact lives on. When she went to be with the Lord, I know she heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Photo: Nora Sandahl (left) and Sherry Pitney enjoy the bluebonnets in Nora’s home state of Texas.