Showing gratitude in 2020 may seem difficult, but these readers’ stories of thanks will give you hope

In a year like no other in recent history, it would be easy to be grousing instead of grateful today. The following people, however, answered our call to share their thankful thoughts to brighten the holiday season. Enjoy.

The gift of life

Kari Dirks, 60, Coralville

The year 2020 will go down in history as a very challenging year. However, this Thanksgiving I have so much to be thankful for.

On Oct. 22, a very special friend, Greg Johnson, saved my life by donating his kidney to me. It is hard to put into words just how much that gift means; anyone who donates an organ is a hero.

I have the inherited PKD gene and needed a kidney transplant, like my dad and brother. My family and my donor’s family have been friends since our daughters met in kindergarten in 1991. I never thought when we met this family so many years ago that I would be given the ultimate gift of life.

On Thanksgiving Day, I will be especially thankful for my donor and his family (who have been very supportive); for my wonderful family who has cared for me; and for so many caring friends. I am blessed.

Gifts from home

Joyce Hollingshead Cole, 70, Hanover, Mich.

Of course this has been a challenging year for us all. But I want to give a HUGE shout out to my husband, J.R., who I think went above and beyond for our anniversary this year, which was Nov. 8, and also to the Jefferson High School Principal Mike Hawley.

I grew up in Cedar Rapids and graduated from Jefferson in 1968. I moved to Michigan in 1972 when my first husband was laid off from Collins as an engineer. He took a job in Jackson, Mich., and we moved here a week after we were married.


My current husband knows how much I adore my hometown and miss being there. So he contacted the Jefferson principal to see if he could get something with the Jefferson name on it. The principal and his staff went above and beyond by sending me two shirts, a yearbook, my transcripts and some pictures. My husband was willing to pay for shipping but they took care of everything. Then today I received the Sunday, Nov. 8, (our anniversary date) Gazette. Another wonderful surprise!

Because I am always proud of being from Iowa, this was the perfect gift for me. I have much to thank God for this year, my thoughtful husband, my family staying healthy and many wonderful friends in my life, both here and in Iowa. It is difficult to be melancholy with so much to he thankful for.

Gift of health

Jean Salter, 88, Cedar Rapids

I am so thankful to God that he let me live to see 2020. I lived through the disaster when the world went wild worrying when the calender hit 2000. We had no problem. Had many problems, two great floods, etc.

When COVID-19 struck, we thought that was all we could handle.

Then came the storm from hell on Aug. 10. I am so grateful that God has kept me fit and strong so I could use my chain saw to help cut the limbs that were not too big, and carry them to the curb.

Mostly, I am so thankful to my daughter and her husband for their help, and to the church that came from Volga to take care of the large trees for many of the families and spent weeks helping us all. I, of course, am so thankful that only the trees and my fence blew down — the house and we were saved.

I am thankful for every day good or bad. God bless this nation


Deb Dunek, 67, Cedar Rapids

Since this cruel pandemic hit, I have felt thankful to be retired and able to stay home in my nice, safe house.

This comfortable feeling was shattered Aug. 10 when all the 100-year-old trees around our property began to fall in the storm, with their branches flying like heavy, exploding projectiles.


When the winds subsided, I toured our home to assess the damage. Besides three windows blown out in an upstairs room, the tree damage outside was everywhere. Heavy branches and uprooted trees covered the yard, driveway and garage roof, making opening the door almost impossible.

It absolutely brings tears of gratefulness as I think of how my family and friends gathered to help me turn this havoc into restoration. Unknown to me, my family was chatting online on how to help.

My niece bivouacked to our house to see if we were OK. My daughters came from Wyoming and Missouri armed with a chain saw, hard hats, food, water, tarps, ice and even a camp stove to cook on. My high school friends spent the day cutting and moving branches. A big one took a group effort to prevent it from breaking through our living room picture window. A neighbor’s son helped clear the driveway.

I couldn’t be more thankful this year for my wonderful family and friends.

Roommates once more

Coral Dye, 83, Cedar Rapids

One of the most positive blessings from the pandemic is that my twin sister, Carol Best, moved in with me to Cedar Rapids from Texas on March 20. We have thoroughly enjoyed living together these past eight months. Both our husbands are in heaven, and our families didn’t want us each living alone.

We are both thankful for our good health, loving families, a caring church and neighbors who are friendly and kind. Even though we can’t meet together in person, we keep in touch with family and friends by phone and texting.

Almost every day we take two long walks around the trail at Wright School (a total of three miles a day) assisted by walkers that were given to us. Although we are of retirement age, we tell everyone that this is the only time we use them (the walkers), then we put them away until the next walk.

Our one indulgence is to get our daily coffee and bagels at Panera Bread close by — and we now bring it home to enjoy. Our prayer is that soon the vaccine will be available and we all can go on with our lives.

Pet, people power

Jill Jamieson, 68, Cedar Rapids


I am thankful for my dogs Murphy and Ozzie for their love and companionship. Without power after the derecho, we camped out in the backyard for a change of pace and to escape the heat. Ozzie is always the first to jump in for a camping adventure.

Also, my friends Mic Herrity and Mike O’Brien are the reasons for my gratitude and thankfulness — not just during this Thanksgiving season but every day. They came to my rescue during the derecho aftermath with food; a Thermos of coffee, just the way I like it; and emotional support. Like Dolly Parton sings, “You can’t make old friends.”

Derecho driving

Stella Siver, 79, Cedar Rapids

I have said prayers of thanksgiving each day since Aug. 10. My elementary aged grandson and I survived the derecho, with no injuries to us, or damage to my van.

I was on the northeast side of town, and I was driving my grandson to Fairfax to spend the afternoon with his cousin. I could not believe how fast the storm approached. It seemed like the sunny skies instantly turned deadly, and the storm began.

The rain was pouring so hard that I felt like I was sitting in a car wash. The wind was so fierce that trees were toppling into the streets, and branches were hitting the windshield. My van was sometimes rocking back and forth.

I managed to make it into a residential area, but I didn’t get very far. Every street had fallen trees and debris. I was traveling around in circles.

I finally found a large parking lot, near a huge building, where we were able to find a bit of shelter. We waited out the last 15 minutes of the storm from there.

As the weeks have passed, I have driven in all parts of the city on numerous occasions. I have seen the destruction of the horrific storm, with mammoth trees uprooted, buildings toppled and roofs no longer there. I feel that it was a miracle that we survived unscathed. For this I will be forever grateful.

Tech connections

Richard Jacobson, 66, North Liberty


I met a special someone this year, named Pam. We met online and due to COVID restrictions, had to confine ourselves to phone calls and emails into the middle of May.

So there can be gratitude even in the midst of a pandemic.

Family friendly

Geri and Walt Mollman, 92 and 94, Cedar Rapids

We are thankful for The Gazette’s regular arrival, bringing unity and cheerfulness each day to all.

We were blessed with a lovely autumn day on Oct. 31, plus a visit from our six great-grandchildren and their parents. What a joyful pre-winter event.

Voting, for the win

Carole Gauger, 83, Cedar Rapids

I am so proud of Cedar Rapids for creating these Early Voting sites. As an elderly lady with breathing problems, I appreciated going to the Public Service Center on the southwest side to vote on the second day it was open. The four paid workers made it so easy for me. There was no line. They canceled the absentee ballot I had ordered and placed my completed ballot into the locked box.

I was so impressed. Thank you, Cedar Rapids officials.

Neighborly unity

Robert and Jo Ann McNiel, 77 and 68, Cedar Rapids

We are thankful for the many neighbors, and their families, who came to our and each other’s rescue on Aug. 10, and the many days and weeks thereafter, to restore our homes and neighborhood to some semblance of normalcy.

Additional gratitude to the professional and volunteer crews from around the country, with their kindness and compassion.

Community spirit

Jen Neumann, 48, Cedar Rapids


I’m thankful for a community that is so generous with time, talent and treasure and has a bootstrap mentality when it comes to pulling together to overcome hardship. 2008 and 2020 are the two most vivid examples of this, but this spirit lives within and among us at all times and is the source of our resiliency.

Attitude of gratitude

Rita (Svoboda) Tomanek, 78, Iowa City

Deeper appreciation of family, friends and of those who come to the aid of others, even though risking danger to themselves.

Thoughtful discernment of our previous priorities.

More time to enjoy and take part in the beauty of nature, e.g. cleaner air, starlit night skies, less outdoor noise.

A greater respect for life, it’s fragility, preciousness and uncertainty.

A humbler attitude before God and the power of nature.

A greater hope for America’s future.

Power of love

Jim and Percy Caviness, 84 and 82, Fairfax

We are thankful everyday that God loves us, and we are thankful that we still love each other (after being married 64 years) and live together in our home.

Neighborhood effort

Rick Martin, 75, Parcrest Neighborhood, Block 1 Captain, Cedar Rapids

I am thankful I live in such a caring and giving Parcrest Neighborhood.

The Cedar Rapids Northeast Parcrest Neighborhood continues its annual needy Veterans’ Families Thanksgiving Food Basket Drive. This year will be the sixth year the Parcrest Neighborhood will be providing Thanksgiving baskets to 25 or more needy veteran families.

This annual event was started by Parcrest Neighborhood leader Cynthia McFarland who approached me, a 20-year Navy veteran and Parcrest neighbor, and asked if there was something the neighborhood could do to help Cedar Rapids veterans.

I am involved with the Cedar Rapids Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 788 annual Christmas food baskets for needy veteran families and these same needy families will not have a Thanksgiving dinner. I approached the Linn County Veterans Affairs office and asked for needy veterans’ names and addresses who could use Thanksgiving baskets.

The first year, Parcrest bought food, assembled boxes and delivered six Thanksgiving boxes to veteran families. The next four years, Parcrest, in coordination with Kenwood Park Neighborhood Association President and Parcrest neighbor Erica Yoder, teamed with Kenwood Park Methodist Church SHARE Program and provided Thanksgiving Baskets to 20 veteran families each year.

Last year, with the SHARE program going away, the Parcrest Neighborhood planned the meals, purchased the food from the Fareway store on First Avenue NE, who assembled the food boxes, and the Parcrest Neighborhood personally delivered the baskets to 20 veteran families.

The Parcrest Neighborhood kicked off its sixth year annual Thanksgiving Veteran Food Basket Drive Nov. 3 with a goal of 25 food baskets for 25 veteran families and have met this goal. Thank you Parcrest Neighborhood.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; [email protected]

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