Let’s Cook: The Wonders of Wanda

Adrenaline rushes. Her binoculars rise as she spots a Northern Oriole at the J Clark Salyer Refuge located north of Towner, North Dakota. The well-used birding book is at her elbow merely hinting at the hours of study that have led up to her knowledge of identifying birds because of their certain feather color, shape of the head, or array of spots. For a birder, nothing quite matches the joy of witnessing the sighting of a new bird which can be marked off on their lifelong list. But the real satisfaction with former Rugby birder Wanda Nielsen came with the more peaceful task of inviting new friends to take an interest in birding.

Wanda Nielsen, a long-time Rugby resident, passed away June 8, 2020, at the age of 97. Wanda was many things, but her love of birding was well known; she loved to share her knowledge of birding. When Jan and I move on to Third Street SW, she was our western neighbor. Wanda welcomed us to the neighborhood with a warm greeting on our front step as she handed us a birding book — she was the Third Street welcome wagon.

This took place in November and when spring rolled around, she returned to our doorstep with neighborly marching orders inviting us to a bird watch adventure complete with picnic lunch at the J Clark Salyer Refuge. Wanda pull into the driveway with her cool Lincoln and in the car were two other bird aficionados LaVerne and Eleanor who were positioned in the back of the car. Only four people were allowed on the adventure because we each needed our own window for good viewing.

It was great morning of learning and establishing friendship with these ladies. The lunch was perfect, and the nature setting could not have been better. Like many others, I admired and learned from Wanda for years. She was first and foremost a teacher and was expert in balancing concern for others, community involvement, entertaining, and strength of family. She was inspirational and encouraging as she expressed to me once that the yellow coffee cups at First Lutheran are the best for funeral luncheons. She informed me that if I am around for her funeral luncheon to make sure that these cups were used because they reminded her of sunshine. (How ironic, because of COVID-19, a funeral luncheon was not held after her service. However, packaged birdseed was distributed that said “Don’t forget to feed the birds!) Wanda was known for paying attention to detail–not only in the First Lutheran dining hall–but in so many aspects of life.

Wanda understood that we all have ties to one another. The mere fact of her inviting a young man on a birding escapade with three senior-citizen women showed that her hardware skills of uniting young and old were as gleaming as her silver gravy ladle.

She was excellent at conjuring up ideas to bring people back into the fold of activity when their spouse had passed away. After Curt Strand passed away, Maxine was lonely and Wanda knew this. She thought a movie night would be a great way to inspire Maxine. She was right because she, Maxine, Jan and I went to the Lyric to watch “Dumb and Dumber!” The laughter championed the night not only at the theater, but in the coffee fellowship to follow.

Another adventure that is worth noting was a trip to Camp Metigoshe to seeing the Nights of Christmas. We had just purchased a new vehicle, so I offered to drive. In the backseat sat Wanda, Maxine Strand, and Betty Zwingel. We were inspired by the lights and singing; however, when we started back to Rugby the headlights would not turn on — but only the parking lights. The response from the trio in the back was “drive on — we will all watch for deer!” Thank goodness we had nice moonlight and great conversation. I took the vehicle into the shop only to discover that I had not turned the switch far enough to engage the lights! Lesson learned — the driver was dim in knowing how to turn on the headlights — let the power of letting life shine on.

Wanda will be missed; however, we can all be inspired by the fact that she lived her life that many things in life can tie us together in joys and sorrows. Her involvement in brown bag noon Bible study, support of Camp Metigoshe, Scouts, First Lutheran Choir, GFWC Literary Club, Heart of America Library, and beloved quilters along with her deep connection to Hospice, caregivers and the prayer chain remain as inspiration to become engaged.

By the garage door of Wanda’s home these words from the Camp Metigoshe were posted:

“No One is an Island”

No one is an island, No one stands alone,

Each one’s joy is joy to me, Each one’s grief is my own.

We need one another, so I will defend,

Each one as my neighbor, Each one as my friend.

This was the Commendation Hymn sung at her funeral, and it was the creed that she lived by. Thank you, Wanda, for reminding us that many ties bind us together.

The first time that we were invited to Wanda’s home, she served meatloaf with mushroom gravy. It was a delicious meal and she shared the recipe on the spot for easy and tasty gravy. There are no two ways about it — Americans love meat. This gravy works well with a variety of meat, and we especially like it with these easy-to-do meatballs.

Wanda’s Mushroom Gravy

1 can of golden mushroom soup

2 cups of beef stock

5 tablespoons of butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 4-ounce can of sliced mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in saucepan and slowly add flour to make a roux. Combine soup with beef stock and blend well before adding to roux. Cook over medium heat, stirring until smooth and heated through finish off by adding mushrooms. Cover and let flavors develop before serving.

Easy meatballs

1 pound hamburger

1 egg

3 slices bread soaked in 2/3 cup of milk

1 onion, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all and beat with electric mixer until fluffy. Form balls and bake in a 375-degree oven until not pink in the middle. When ready to serve, combine with gravy.


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