Friday, June 5, 2015

Remembering the tragic deaths of 40 years ago

I was eight-years-old when twin girls from my church were killed in a car accident along with their mother and a younger brother and sister.

That was 40 years ago on Friday, June 6, 1975. 

Christmas '72: Karleen, Marce, Stacie, Carissa
Everyone was devastated.

Pat, the mother, was a prominent member of the community and served on the South Dakota Board of Regents, the board that controls higher educational institutions in the state.

As I reflected on this milestone, I realized it was my first experience with death.

The twins were born two months before me, and I often wonder how my life would have been different had Carissa and Karleen been around.

I never played against them in a basketball game. Never sang in the church choir with them. Never told them, “Hey, I finally got my period” or “Mom let me start shaving my legs” or "Todd asked me to the prom."

Would we have drug Main Street in Huron together? Discussed the cute boys at our respective schools? Made the trek to Tabor during our college years?

Marce, Karleen, me, John Wollman, Kristine Wollman (standing )
Stephanie Peters (her birthday party), Carissa

From what I recall, Carissa was loud and blunt; whereas, Karleen was more girlish and quiet. But that’s my eight-year-old mind remembering.

I've never known another Karleen, and had I ever been a mother to a girl, Karleen would have been her name.

The twins usually wore matching clothes. I remember their colorful ponchos and shag haircuts. Their doll house was the size of my dining room table with the leaf in. I wonder whatever became of that. They shared a large room with twin beds. I envied them having a playmate in each other.

my 6-year-old birthday party
I'm seated with Carissa & Karleen standing to my left with Marce in front

I've never known another Marce, their brother. Their little sister Stacie had gone through multiple procedures to correct an issue with her legs. My young mind wondered why God would put her through all that if He was just going to take her home anyway.
When I learned about the fatal accident, I was in the middle of the yard playing. Mom came out and said, “Pat and the kids were killed in a terrible accident while on their way to see Don at National Guard camp in Minnesota.”

Just like that. She said it. No beating around the bush. That’s my mom. She said it like it was.

In shock, I responded with, “I said goodbye to them after VBS today.” Then my eight-year-old reasoning mind set in, “They just got that new car.”

The Mendels had driven a tiny, light blue car with a hatchback. It wasn’t really a station wagon—it wasn’t big enough to be called that. I can picture that car now. But they’d finally gotten a bigger vehicle, a regular-sized four-door car. Everybody at church was so happy they had a roomier vehicle. Strange how my mind went there after Mom told me.

On that Sunday, a couple days after their deaths, we didn’t have a normal church service, but the sanctuary was packed. The funeral, held in the Doland gym, was the same way.

Five caskets.

I have a book that Pat, the twins' mom, gave me. She was our Sunday School Superintendent at Ebenezer Church. She wrote a personal message in it to me. Ironically, it’s a book about a teacher. And take a look at what she wrote in it.

Pat's note to me in 1974:
I hope you enjoy this book. Maybe someday you'll be a teacher.

I guess Pat knew something I didn’t. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I changed my major from mass communications to English. I hope I’ve done her proud. 

God has blessed me with a joyful life and few regrets. Good health, a fulfilling career, a husband, a step-daughter and son-in-law, and most recently, a beautiful little grandson.

As I reach each milestone in my life, I think of the twins in a special way.

Carissa and Karleen. Never to be forgotten.


  1. Oh, that's sad and beautiful. Oh, Melodie. All five. We knew a family heading to Disney last year ... some five of them were killed. Just grabs hold of your heart and refuses to let go. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Shelli. Pat's mother recently passed away after all these years. Reunited at last.

  2. The poor husband / father. I hope that he was able to find comfort.

    1. Yes, he was. He eventually remarried--a widow with five children, and ironically, she had twin boys. His new wife fought a battle with breast cancer and passed on years later. He did find love again then with the wife he has now.

      I had originally thought of putting that in the piece, but I wanted to focus on the twins and the impact the loss had on me.

      Thank you for your comment (whoever you might be).