Linwood to help family in need


April 13 dinner to benefit Stankeys


Alice Pickering
Linwood Reporter

The Linwood Fire Department is sponsoring a spaghetti dinner benefit for the Stankey family on April 13. When Dawn Stankey – wife, mother and grandmother – learned of the special event, she wanted to people to know the family’s background.

Over the past four years, former North Branch residents Gary and Dawn Stankey, their daughter and her children have hit a rough patch in their lives with a series of challenges few could handle.

Gary was employed at Peterson’s Mill for many years. In late 2009 he became ill with the H1N1 flu virus, known as swine flu.

He recovered, but with a disabling complication discovered only after he blacked-out while driving home from the Twin Cities. Apparently, responding officers allowed him to drive away, and he suffered a second blackout and crash.

Doctors discovered the blackouts were the result of blood clots on his brain. The diagnosis was brain encephalopathy. The clots reduced blood flow to parts of his brain, which is now slowly dying. There is no cure and doctors cannot stop its progress. Symptoms can include confusion, memory loss and poor regulation of emotions.

Adding insult to injury, Gary was prosecuted for inattentive and reckless driving in the incident. It took a year before the charges were dropped due to medical testimony and documentation.

Because of his chronic condition, Gary can no longer work. It was two years before he was able to begin collecting Social Security disability. The Stankeys lost their home in North Branch. They now rent a house in Linwood.

Dawn Stankey said Gary’s condition is worsening and he can lapse into depression.

Last October, Dawn and Gary Stankey learned their daughter has terminal cancer and she could not adequately care for her four children: Amirah, 9; Treigh, 8; Dakotah, 3; and Keyahanna, 2. She wants the focus to be on her children and asked not to be named.

Amirah and Treigh are both students at Linwood Elementary School. Dawn Stankey learned of her daughter’s illness when she got a call from Linwood Elementary School saying that Treigh was missing a lot of school. He was staying home to help care for his little brother and sister because, he told his grandma, “Mama can’t get up.”

Anoka County social services workers could not guarantee the children would be placed in foster care together. Gary and Dawn Stankey wanted the children and wanted them to remain together. The children’s father is not in the picture and has no custody rights. Their mother has made provision in her will for her parents to be guardians.

The three oldest children have lived with the Stankeys since last October. Keyahanna is cared for by an aunt during the week, but they are all together with their grandparents on the weekends.

Dawn Stankey is the bread-winner, while Gary helps with the little kids. However, this has been a challenge, too. One of the symptoms of encephalopathy is poor emotional control. Dawn Stankey said Gary now recognizes when this is coming on. So have his grandchildren.

Raising the children has been a positive change.

“The kids have helped his depression,” Dawn Stankey said.

The close relationships help the children, especially when they miss their mother.

The children’s uncle Gregory, a veterinary medicine student, comes after classes every day to care for Dakotah.  During the day, Gary helps care for Dakotah, who has asked him if he is “Daddy or Papa” Gary’s answer is that he is “Daddy-Papa.”

Teachers, counselors and other staff at Linwood Elementary have been very helpful to the older children. At home and school, Amirah and Treigh put a lot of their feelings into their artwork. They include their mother in family pictures and are encouraged to draw happy pictures.

Dawn Stankey relayed Amirah and Treigh’s Christmas requests to Santa: “Please help Mama get well” and “Give Grandpa back his old brain.”

The children attend St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Circle Pines and do not like to miss services. Pastor Steve Sampson has been a great support, especially to Amirah and Treigh, who understand more about their mother’s and grandfather’s illnesses. Treigh was excited about his First Communion set for this Tuesday. The faith community of St. Paul Lutheran in Wyoming has also been very supportive of the family.

Dawn Stankey told of neighbors who have kept their driveway plowed so she can get to her job at Fairview Lakes Medical Center. She works four days a week and is free on Friday to be available for children’s counseling. Three times Gary Stankey has become unconscious and an ambulance has been called. Folks in the neighborhood have helped.

In early December, Kathy Hereau contacted Linwood Elementary seeking a family to adopt for Christmas. She was referred to the Stankeys. Of the relationship, Hereau said, “Grandma was a blessing to me.”

This contact got the attention of the fire department and got the ball rolling for the benefit dinner.

Dawn Stankey has not told Gary about the dinner, because she wants it to be a surprise. Her wish is that those who knew them when they lived in North Branch and in particular, those who knew Gary Stankey when he worked at Peterson’s, would stop by to see him and meet the kids.

The benefit is scheduled 4:30-8:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13, at the Linwood Fire Hall. Tickets are $5. There is no admission for children under 5.

The LFD Auxiliary is also sponsoring a silent auction. All ticket receipts and profits from both events are to benefit the Stankeys. Contributions to the auction from individuals and businesses are welcome. Those with questions should contact Joe and Janet Dolphy at 651-462-4910.