Pennies from heavenQueen of Peace school in Cloquet will get a new playground thanks to the generosity of donors Lynn Stoyanoff, Monica Coen and Michele Carlson and a matching grant.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Matthew 7:7.
Sister Therese Gutting asked for a new playground at Queen of Peace School in Cloquet, and Lynn Stoyanoff heard.
On Friday, Stoyanoff presented the Catholic elementary school principal with a check for $20,000 (in honor of her late husband, Chris Stoyanoff), to match a grant for the same amount. Monica Coen and Michele Carlson also pledged $8,000, in memory of their father Peter Nelson.
The grant offer was due to expire Nov. 18.
“Sister’s been praying, I’ve been praying … Mother Colleen and Chris must have been talking,” Stoyanoff said, adding that she had been trying to think of ways to raise money for the playground. “I thought, ‘What can I do with this money that will really make a difference?’ Chris wouldn’t want an $8,000 tombstone. Then it just came to me. This is what I should do.”
The money came from an auction of Chris Stoyanoff’s heavy equipment. The former MnDOT mechanic had a bulldozer, trailers, trucks and various “big boy toys” that his wife didn’t want to keep. Contributing to something for children in his memory was a perfect fit.
You see, Chris had been playing Santa Claus for more than three decades. He was as close to the real thing as a person could get in the Northland. Much more than a photo opportunity, Chris and Lynn would hit the streets each Christmas Eve, their Jeep loaded with gifts already dropped at their home by friends and relatives, along with some extras that the Stoyanoffs had accumulated throughout the year. At each stop, Chris would hustle inside with his gifts, while Lynn prepared the gifts for the next house.
“We’re so excited,” Lynn said. “With Chris doing Santa – he loved kids and we never had any of our own – it will be wonderful.”
One of the most special visits Chris made as Santa was when he came to the classroom of a speech therapist in the Cloquet schools, Lynn said. There was a little boy who never moved due to physical handicaps, who just laid on the floor. When Chris arrived, all dressed in his homemade red costume, fireman’s boots and wig made of yak’s hair, Lynn said the little boy pulled himself up by his elbows at Santa’s feet.
“We were all crying,” Lynn said. “Chris pulled him up on his lap. Later he said it was the most meaningful thing he’d ever experienced.”
Chris died of leukemia in February. The previous Christmas was the first time he and Lynn hadn’t made their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rounds in 35 years.
Nov. 19 – the day after the grant offer would have expired – is his birthday.
“Father [Rick Banker] and I were talking [about the playground and the imminent deadline], and I said, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do,’” Sister Therese said. “Then Lynn walked into my office.”
The new playground will be located on the corner of Fourth Street and Avenue G, across the street from the current playground, which will be turned into a parking lot for the church and school.
How old is the current wooden playground?
“Well, the school will be 100 years old in 2012,” Sister Therese said. “The playground? It’s been here forever.”
They plan to name the new playground “The Chris Stoyanoff Santa Claus Playground.” The playground will also contain a memorial to the memory of late Cloquet businessman Peter Nelson.