by Amelia Wedemeyer
The faces of Lillyan Willis and her younger brother Jayden Schossow were flushed from standing outside their Ridgeway home as they waited for the big surprise they had been promised. The minutes passed as they usually do in winter, slowly and frigidly, and only the promise of something spectacular was a reason to wait outside. Finally, in the flurry of white drift in the distance, blue and red flashing lights appeared, signaling to Lillyan and Jayden that their surprise had just arrived.
Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand, along with some of his deputies, the Ridgeway Fire and Rescue team, members of the Search Operations Assistance Response, and members of the Hiawatha Valley Marines, made the snowy trek out to Ridgeway to pay a visit to Lillyan, 6, and Jayden, 3, who lost their mother unexpectedly this past November.
“In our line of work we see a lot of negative things happen, one of them being the loss of the children’s mother,” Sheriff Brand said. “Doing this is a positive thing that makes us feel good. It’s Christmastime and this is supposed to be a happy time of year.”
The simple yet meaningful gesture, which was organized by the Winona County Sheriff’s Department, involved surprising the children with wrapped gifts and a ride in the firetruck with Santa Claus himself. Responders and family members snapped photos and reveled in the pure excitement on the children’s faces.
The children’s grandmother, Brenda Stinson, said with confidence, “I know that my daughter, their mother, is smiling and watching from heaven right now.”