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A caravan of friendship tightens through the loss of a loved one

A procession of 11 vehicles, all different colors including bright pink, yellow, silver and red, winds its way through downtown Grand Forks, crosses the Sorlie Bridge and turns into the Whitey's parking lot.

From left; Dianne Johnston, Marlys Mittlesteadt, June Duray, Janelle Menard, Georgine Johnson and Lee Troutman gather around Duray's VW Bug. The decal in the rear window was the favorite saying of their friend, Lynae Sondreal. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

A procession of 11 vehicles, all different colors including bright pink, yellow, silver and red, winds its way through downtown Grand Forks, crosses the Sorlie Bridge and turns into the Whitey's parking lot.

In the rear window of each car is a decal in bright letters that says "angels all around you."

The words, the cars, their drivers and the restaurant can all be tied to Lynae Sondreal, who died during Memorial Day week last year.

Sondreal's friends said she made everyone feel like they were her very best friend.

"I always appreciated her smile," Marlys Mittelsteadt said. "She always called to me, 'Hi, girlfriend.' "


"She loved to hug people, had a beautiful laugh," Lee Troutman said.

"She always called me sister," Georgine Johnson said. "Her and Dianne Johnston and I, everyone thought we were triplets."

Saying goodbye

When it came time to say goodbye, Sondreal would often say, "Angels all around you." She would say it to co-workers who became friends at PS Doors, the Gold and Silver Exchange, Generous Jerrys and Leighton Broadcasting.

Even when Sondreal moved to Sedona, Ariz., during Christmas 2007, her friends remained close.

June Duray also was living in Sedona at the time. After the two saw the movie "The Bucket List," they felt inspired to climb nearby Bell Rock.

"We both looked at each other and said, 'We're not in Kansas anymore," Duray said. "It was literally a mountain-top experience, especially the fear of trying to make it back down."

Real fear


The fear turned all too real in April 2008, when Sondreal was treated for a rapid heart rate.

"The next thing you know, things started to shut down," Duray said.

Sondreal had contracted the rare heart disease giant cell myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that often goes undiagnosed and is often fatal.

She began writing in a notebook her wishes and gift cards to be given after her death to her family, her church, youth groups and her honorary casket bearers: Mittelsteadt, Troutman, Johnson, Duray, Johnston, Janelle Menard, Cathie Pearson, Connie Bjerk, Sheryl Schwartz, Sue Stinar and Linda Hickenbothem.

Troutman said the last time she spoke with Sondreal, instead of saying goodbye, she echoed her friend.

"Angels all around you."

Sondreal died May 29 at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix at age of 55.

Soon afterward, all 11 casket bearers received a card from Lynae with a note from her mother, Laverne McMenamy, and sister, Jeanie Breidenbach, saying what a great friend each was. Also enclosed was a check from Sondreal's estate.


Mittelsteadt remembered.

"First, I thought it was a thank you card, then I looked at the check and started crying," she said. "I called Cathie and said, 'Have you got your mail?'

Pearson opened the card with the same overwhelming shock and surprise.

Each friend had received an amount in the thousands of dollars.

On July 15, Lynae's birthday, the recipients surrounded her gravesite in Memorial Park Cemetery South with multi-colored bouquets.

"We all sat in the sunshine sharing stories," Duray said. "We laughed so hard that we cried and then cried so hard that we laughed."

From there, Duray said the tighter-bonded friends took the "birthday party" to Whitey's, Sondreal's favorite restaurant, where they still regularly gather.

When the money cleared probate several months later, Duray remembered when she and Sondreal worked on their "bucket lists" together.


"On my list was to buy a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, a car I always wanted and got with the gift of her money," Duray said. "In her memory, in bright yellow letters in the back window, I put her favorite saying: angels all around you."

The friends loved the idea and had the decal made up for their cars. Now, at least 15 other people are asking for the decals, including former co-workers at KNOX radio.

"It's a gift for Lynae's mom and sister," Duray said. "They didn't have to give us the money. This is our way of saying thank you."

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to jjohnson2@gfherald.com .

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