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Spreading the joy of the season

Although Michael and Shannon Lisic raised their eight children to work hard, share, be honest, responsible and care for others, a lot of people thought it would be nice if the world returned some of the love and caring the Lisic family dispenses ...

The Lisic family are surrounded by members of the Best Christmas Ever team that secretly worked together to raise money to help the family have a better Christmas and fewer worries in the new year. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal
The Lisic family are surrounded by members of the Best Christmas Ever team that secretly worked together to raise money to help the family have a better Christmas and fewer worries in the new year. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

Although Michael and Shannon Lisic raised their eight children to work hard, share, be honest, responsible and care for others, a lot of people thought it would be nice if the world returned some of the love and caring the Lisic family dispenses so freely.

After Michael died of cancer in October, a record 17 different people nominated the Lisic family to the Best Christmas Ever nonprofit, which brings together a team of volunteers, friends and local businesses to help a family that has fallen on tough times through no fault of their own have a better Christmas. It's about more than simply helping financially, it's also about showing them that there are people who care deeply about them, even if some of them are complete strangers.

Although they've been a part of past BCE efforts, this was the first year that Cloquet Ford Chrysler had its own BCE team, which was almost formed by accident, owner Al Birman said.

"We realized we had enough resources to help a family and there were between 70-75 stories (nominations) left," he explained to Shannon Lisic after the team arrived at their house near Alborn Friday evening. "We got to your story - it was No. 7 - and it just kept hanging there."

It was simply meant to be, Birman said.

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The team contacted Teresa Skansgaard, who had written the nomination they read. Led by Alex Udenberg, the large team got busy fundraising and soliciting donations. They also recruited Michael and Shannon's second-oldest son, Paul, to secretly advise them on what gifts would help the family the most.

The rest of the Lisic family, meanwhile, were blissfully unaware of the machinations going on in Cloquet, 20-some miles away from their rural home.

A remarkable family

Teresa and Jon Skansgaard had noticed the Lisic family at Queen of Peace Church - where they took up an entire pew - before they met them at a Christmas party about 10 years ago.

"We recognized them because of the kids," said Teresa, noting that their own kids are all grown up. "And we thought, we've got to get to know them - they gotta be crazy."

The Lisics soon brought the Skansgaards into their family circle, inviting them to birthdays, graduations and all kinds of family fun.

They're a unique family, Teresa explained. The kids are all home-schooled by Shannon, who stayed home while Michael worked, first as a mechanic for Northwest, then at Sappi for the past 11 years. They don't have a television. They raised pigs and chickens, hunted and trapped.

"I think they could all butcher a pig by the time they were 7 or 8," Teresa said. "And the boys can all trap and tan a beaver hide."

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The whole family went to Mass every Sunday, usually in two cars.

Michael wore his church clothes all day every Sunday, because that's what Sundays were about, Jon added.

When a neighbor got sick or hurt, the Lisics would bring them food, or go chop wood, or whatever needed to be done.

While No. 3 son Dom said it hurts that his dad is gone, he takes comfort in the lessons he taught them all.

"What I'm most grateful for from him is having a good work ethic and trust in the good Lord that everything is going to work out," said Dom, home from the Marines for the holidays, standing straight and tall during the surprise BCE visit Friday, Dec. 22. "He left us with so much: that ability to go about doing your own thing without relying on your parents to do it for you. The best gift a parent can give is that knowledge that you can do it (yourself)."

While noting he owns nothing he hasn't worked for, Dom added that he really appreciated the BCE group and its efforts, and thought the story deserved to be told.

Illness strikes

Michael was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma a little over a year ago. He'd been sick before that, but was misdiagnosed initially. By the time he got a second opinion from doctors at Mayo Clinic, the cancer had spread to his bones.

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Michael had his first chemotherapy treatment Dec. 23, 2016. He died 10 months later, on Oct. 12.

"He never complained," Jon Skansgaard said. "Whatever life handed him, he accepted with grace. He was a kind, loving, caring man up until the day he died."

"He just said 'cancer sucks,' because it took him away from so much," Teresa added.

Mike could fix anything, Jon noted, and worked in the maintenance department at Sappi.

Michael's co-workers at Sappi were very supportive.

"They were so good to him," Shannon said. "They were all that they could be. They treated us and Mike, just so genuine."

His family - four kids still at home, and four out, but still close - stepped up to accomplish what dad could no longer do, and surrounded him with love.

"Every Mass he was always holding a little one," Teresa said.

Truly thoughtful

Expecting Teresa and Jon to be arriving with chili and beer, Shannon Lisic didn't know what to think when the line of more than a dozen cars and a moving truck pulled up their driveway.

As she opened up the garage doors, she saw all kinds of people - friends as well as strangers - climbing out of vehicles, grabbing gift-wrapped packages, walking toward her and seven of her eight children (the oldest, Matt, had left a few minutes before). Once everyone had crowded inside, team captain Alex Udenberg explained how Best Christmas Ever originally started (in Esko) and how the Lisic family had been nominated by so many different people, who simply wanted them to know how much they were loved.

According to the Best Christmas Ever website, the desire is not only to "bless families through radical generosity around Christmas time, but to also make a lasting impact on each family."

As such, it's not really about consumption. Although each one of the four younger kids got a fun gift - the girls got nice boots; the boys got drones to fly - many of the gifts were more practical. Each family member got new coats and a new pair of Carhartt bibs.

The team paid the homeschool tuition for the rest of the year, and bought the family a trip up the North Shore together. They also arranged for a headstone package for Michael with Jerry Souder of Souder-Handevidt Funeral and Cremation Services, who handled Michael's arrangements. They even bought them a snowblower, which 12-year-old Tony had fired up within a half-hour of its unveiling. He and the Nicholas, 8, also got their drones flying the same night and started a fire in the backyard.

Meanwhile Scott and Tom Boedigheimer of Daugherty Appliance rolled in a new fridge - the same model Shannon had admired at Solvay Hospice Home during Michael's last days - and a new oven, which they sold to BCE at price.

"It's a community effort," said Udenberg, who was thrilled to finally meet the family she'd heard so much about.

After crowding into the Lisic home, singing carols and watching the kids open one present each, most of the "team" headed back home to their own families and friends. But first there were lots of hugs. A few close friends stayed behind, to eat chili and commune with their dear friends.

""A whole bunch of people just want you to know how much you're loved," Susan Coen said.

Shannon wandered over by the wood stove and watched as her girls moved food from the old refrigerator to the new one. There were piles of gifts lining the pathway from the door to the Christmas tree and lots of friends and family crowded around.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "A beautiful overwhelming."

The day after Christmas, Teresa said Shannon was already looking forward to helping with next year's Best Christmas Ever family.

To learn more about BCE, visit bcemovement.org or call 218-451-BEST (2378).

Related Topics: CHRISTMAS
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