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OUR OPINION: A life for the ages, a lodge for all ages

The late Ann Nelson always had a larger-than-life quality about her. That was true during her too-short life: After her girlhood in Stanley, N.D., Nelson traveled the world, backpacking, studying and doing service work before settling into a finance career, ultimately in New York City.

It was true in the staggeringly tragic manner of her death. For Nelson died in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the only North Dakotan to do so.

And this week, some 12 1/2 years after that terrible day, it’ll be true in Nelson’s afterlife, as a sublimely worthy project in one of North Dakota’s prettiest spots gets dedicated in her memory.

March 6, 7 and 8 — Thursday, Friday and next Saturday — will see the Grand Opening of Annie’s House, North Dakota’s first adaptive ski lodge for wounded warriors and children with disabilities.

Annie’s House is a spectacular 11,500-square-foot facility at the Bottineau Winter Park in Bottineau, N.D. The lodge replaced the existing chalet, and about half of it will be used to serve the non-disabled skiing population.

The other half, meanwhile, will be a world-class one-of-a-kind: Annie’s House “will accommodate the special needs of disabled children and young adults with both cognitive disabilities such as autism, mental retardation and Down’s syndrome, and physical disabilities such as blindness, cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries,” the Winter Park’s website notes.

In addition, the facility “is designed to provide adaptive ski equipment and programs for wounded warriors who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan challenged with physical disabilities resulting from amputation and traumatic brain injury.”

The facility’s history is as inspiring as its mission. For Annie’s House is a labor of love, with participants ranging from Ann Nelson’s parents, Gary and Jenette Nelson of Stanley, to the New York Says Thank You Foundation in New York City to the 400 volunteers who started construction in a “build-a-thon” over Labor Day Weekend in 2012.

“Her birthday party sometimes lasted for a week,” reads an entry on Ann Nelson’s memorial website. Now, the party in her memory seems likely to last for decades, as Americans and Canadians by the thousands enjoy a facility honoring this North Dakota woman’s larger-than-life, life.