This weekend I have to do something I've never done before and something I wish I would never have to do again. I have to give a eulogy for a friend, Jolie Sasseville, who died in a car accident two days after Thanksgiving in Minnesota. A car accident that could have been avoided if the two young men, who are brothers, had followed the law and not run a stop sign.
All it took was a moment and the truck the brothers were driving plowed into my friend's car killing her, her husband, Jim, and her 9-year-old daughter, Chelsea. The only consolation, if there is a anything that could even be termed a consolation in this tragic event, is that all three were killed instantly. Her 17-year-old daughter, Elise, was not in the car.
As I sit here trying to find the words to write her eulogy I am completely at a loss. But I feel compelled to articulate my grief, to do what I do best and what she did best, to write.
Jolie was a wonderful mother. Her two daughters were her pride and joy. She spent most of her adult life as a single mother until her marriage more than a year ago to Jim. I attended their wedding July 3, 1999, on a hot and humid Midwestern afternoon. I had never seen my friend so happy. She glowed. Jim was her soulmate.
They had much in common. Both were wonderful writers and both had published chapbooks of their poetry. Just this past September their small press, Stone House Press, had published a book that Jim had written about his battle with depression. Both were actively involved in the arts and both were political activists. Both believed in the power of education. Jim was a teacher and Jolie taught journalism parttime at Fergus Falls Community College, where she advised the student newspaper and taught a news photography class. Both were spiritual. Jolie was a Christian Scientist and her faith was apparent in everything she did.
She never judged others and she was gracious to a fault. I don't think I ever heard her put another person down. And I never saw her get angry, although she witnessed my Irish temper many times she never responded in kind. In the 13 years that we were friends I never once heard her say, "You should do this, Alexis" or "If I were you I would never do that." She always instinctively seemed to know that as my friend her first job was to listen and she did it very well. She was the first person I always called or wrote when I had good news or needed to talk.
Jolie graduated from UAS in the late '80s with a degree in liberal arts and while a full-time student and single mother she also was the editor of the student newspaper, the Whalesong. She worked to establish a day care on campus. It was at UAS that Jolie and I became good friends and I was always amazed at her ability to juggle all her many roles. Jolie also made the honor roll ever semester. And every Sunday she attended church with her young daughter, Elise, stopping at Heritage Coffee on the way home to indulge one of her favorite habits, sipping a cup of coffee while reading the Sunday paper. For a few years she wrote a regular column for the paper.
Jolie lived in Juneau from 1979 through 1993, although she left for a year to obtain her master's in journalism at Iowa State University.
Since leaving Juneau for good in 1993, Jolie had lived and worked in a small town called Fergus Falls, Minn., her home state. This past year she had become executive director of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center. In this job she could combine her passion for the arts with her desire to educate children about the importance of the arts in our society. She was scheduled to lead her daughter's fourth grade class on a tour of the Cultural Center the week she was killed.
I think the most fitting tribute is to say that she was loved by many. And she will be missed by many. I will carry her in my heart for the rest of my life. Jolie, you were a beautiful poem without words.
Donations may be sent to the Elise Epperson Scholarship Fund at Security State Bank, 128 E. Washington Avenue, Fergus Falls, MN 56537, or to the Jolie Sasseville Memorial Fund at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, New York Mills, MN 56567.
There will be a memorial brunch for Jolie on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. in the Lake Room at UAS. If you need more information please contact Alexis Ross Miller at 789-7642 or Melanie (Sasseville) Lesh at 789-2847.