EAGLE LAKE – It was first a former member of city council who died of pancreatic cancer. Three months later, in July 2019, he was a board member of the American Legion and Jaycees who also died of cancer. In the second week of August, a member of the town planning commission died at the age of 72.
Judy Born’s death in July marked the loss of her husband, Chuck Born, to cancer just six months after an official diagnosis. In a string of deaths that year, as well as the passing of former Eagle Lake Mayor Bryce Olson at the end of 2017, Judy lost three neighbors and a spouse while the city lost four main advocates. Three were in their sixties.
In about 40 years living near Linda Drive in the growing city of about 3,000 people, the Born people and their neighbors have strengthened their community through volunteerism and public service. After the deaths, Judy looked for a way to commemorate unity as one of the virtues of Eagle Lake.
Almost two years of planning later, last November, a blue memorial bench was installed north of the intersection of the city’s main thoroughfare and Linda Drive. It shows the faces and names of Bryce Olson, the former mayor; Jan Hedge, city councilor; Charles “Chuck” Born, member of the Legion and wife of Judy; and Robert “Jake” Jacobs of the Planning Commission.
During their early years, the group made significant contributions through the Eagle Lake Jaycees, a leadership training and civic engagement organization for adults 40 and under. Focused on improving recreation for families, they installed swings, filled sandboxes in city parks, and organized events with rewards for children.
Over time, they have become public agents and props at community events.
Hedge has balanced her public life with her work as a healthcare professional. Jacobs was a school administrator in Mankato West and a small business owner. Olson worked as a mechanic while Chuck Born was an electrician.
âAll of these people kind of worked together, and of course we were all really good friends and neighbors, so we decided to have them all on the bench,â Judy said.
âWe all had the town of Eagle Lake and the kids as our primary focus,â she added.
On the day the bench was unveiled, dozens of each family and a few neighbors from Eagle Lake gathered on a cold November day to see it.
Although their importance in the city stems from their public affairs, the first two labels passers-by on a footpath near the bench would see are “Close Friends” and “Lovable Neighbors.”
After the deaths of her three longtime friends and her husband, it was out of neighborhood courtesy that Judy Born became moved as she recounted in an interview.
In August, she left the house she and her husband had built in 1990, in the neighborhood of Linda Drive, Linda Court and Linda Circle. She sought to get rid of a mess of tools but felt overwhelmed because she didn’t know what each item was doing or how much it was worth. She was alone.
Feeling helpless, she turned to her remaining neighbors, many of whom had also served in the Jaycees organization.
âMy neighborhood was right there,â she said, helping him clean up and sell what she could.
It is this spirit that, according to Judy, brings the children who grew up in Eagle Lake to come back and settle down as adults. Prior to her recent move to Mankato, she had lived there long enough to be a neighbor of two generations of a neighboring family.
Her husband retired in December 2018 with the intention of spending more time hunting, fishing and volunteering. He left seven months later.
Judy said she never wanted to leave the neighborhood, but the house now seems too big for her.
Despite the “incredible” series of deaths, she said she now has a clearer vision for her remaining years.
âContinue to take care of yourself and others. “