DEER CREEK — Pieces of broken glass that once sat intact in the Wadena-Deer Creek High School for decades, first brought a lot of pain to the community after the school was destroyed by a June 17 tornado.
The broken pieces now represent a whole new meaning.
The sharp and jagged-pieces of broken glass have been turned into memorable keepsakes for the community by Tanya Collins, a rural Deer Creek resident. Collins made 200 keepsakes that were given to all the Wadena-Deer Creek School District staff as a Christmas gift from the district. Since then she’s made another 200 for people in the community to purchase for $12 as a fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds will go to purchase playground equipment that was damaged by the tornado at the Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School.
Collins — who has four children ages 8, 6, 4 and 11 months old — is by trade a jeweler and is a crafty person. Collins said making the keepsakes all started when her mother-in-law Marcy Collins, who works in the district office, had one of her co-workers find a perfect size triangle and she wanted something to be done with it. Collins turned it into a suncatcher and she wrote a note on how creating the keepsake inspired her.
Her note read: “At first, I immediately wanted to re-cut the glass to clean up all the jagged edges. After I looked at it longer, I realized that part of its beauty was in the way the glass was broken and the way those edges shined. It still looks sharp but now the piece is smooth and safe. I realized that it is the same for the school and community after the storm. At first, it was awful and hurtful. Everyone wanted to clean up the mess and fix everything. Over time, all will be beautiful again (like the glass.) And the only ones who can make something so awful into a good thing are the ones who were touched by it. So as you look through this broken glass, see the hurt of the past, but also see the safety of the future. Because once you feel the glass you realize that it can’t hurt you anymore.”
Collins showed the note and suncatcher to Wadena Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom, who decided that every staff member should have one as a Christmas gift.
Dahlstrom said creating the keepsakes was a wonderful idea that provides people with something to remember what happened to the high school on June 17 and how the community pulled together.
Collins said at first she thought, “What did I get myself into?” thinking about all the work she’d have to put into making the keepsakes. But then she thought about all the people who lost their home from the tornado and all the work they had put into cleaning up the mess. Then she realized that making the keepsakes was a gift.
Collins, whose home was not destroyed by the tornado, went to work on the keepsakes in late October. Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., the district’s contractor, picked up four big totes of broken glass for Collins.
Collins said some of the pieces were too large, so she had to break them down. A majority of the pieces are about 2 inch by 2 inch in size. The keepsakes can be used as a necklace, a suncatcher or as a decoration depending on the size. Collins said one teacher hung it on her Christmas tree and then afterwards hung it on her wall as a decoration.
Collins makes about seven to 10 keepsakes in about two hours. The first step in making the keepsakes is to clean the glass. She then takes the glass into a bench grinder to polish and sand down the sharp edges. She then attaches a silver bail to each piece and then ties a ribbon to it.
One of the best parts of making the keepsakes, Collins said is hearing people’s stories about the tornado. Collins said the people, who call her inquiring about ordering a keepsake, also tell her how much they appreciate her for making them.
“These not only took so much time to do, but it also was emotional,” said Collins. “That’s when I realized that these pieces of glass resembled the community. The tornado (aftermath) was emotional for the community and they needed time to heal. Like the glass, over time it got prettier, just like the community.”
Collins will continue to make the keepsakes until all the glass is gone. People interested in ordering a keepsake may contact her at (218) 462-2204 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.