Help for a couple in need starts a chain reaction of giving in Nisswa, Minnesota

People and businesses come together to help people in need with new furnace, water heater, toilets, well pump and more

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

NISSWA, Minn. — One kind deed led to another, and a Nisswa veteran and his wife have much to be thankful for this holiday season.

"It just made me feel so good. Yet I’m thinking there are people worse off than me, people who are homeless," said Tom, who preferred his last name not be used, relaying how hard it was to accept help from strangers because he is used to being the one to help others.

The chain reaction of good deeds started Oct. 14, when Nisswa, Minnesota, police received a request from a resident for a welfare check on their neighbor, whom the neighbor thought might be having water issues.


Officer Luke Hall responded and learned Tom and his wife were having an issue with the well pump.


"Based on what I could see, I could tell help was needed here and if I didn't make it happen, it wasn't going to happen," Hall said via email.

He offered to help find a plumber and posted a request on the police department's Facebook page. Within just a few hours, he received a call from Michele Hornby, of Nokay Plumbing.

It turns out Nisswa police had helped Hornby's daughter many years ago.

“And so I called because it was them,” Hornby said, noting her daughter alerted her to the Facebook post seeking a plumber.

Also, it just so happened that Hornby had a customer in Crosslake who had bought a new well pump she didn't end up needing.

"It was an instant sign 30 seconds after the phone calI was made," Hornby said.

The next morning, an off-duty Hall and Hornby returned to Tom's home.

"Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, and I think naively expecting to be in and out quickly after a simple repair, we discovered the situation was much worse than we expected," Hall said. "Michele, with the heart of an angel, wasn't fazed and started working on solutions."


They learned Tom's well had frozen nine months earlier because the couple didn't have a working furnace for several years. So Hornby called a friend who works in the heating industry: Tim Gerdes, with Perfect Climate.

"He immediately said, 'Michele, I’ll be there in 10 minutes,'” she said.


Over the next month and after many visits from Hall when he wasn't working, the following good deeds occurred:

  • RHI Supply donated a new furnace.

  • Gerdes installed the furnace.

  • Hornby's Crosslake customer donated the well pump.

  • Nisswa Mayor John Ryan donated parts for the well.

  • Pickle Factory Manager Terry Wallin, Nisswa Fire Chief Shawn Bailey and firefighter Justin Stahnke repaired the parts for the well.

  • Goodin Company in Brainerd donated a pressure tank and fittings.

  • Hornby along with her husband, Scott, and daughter, Rebecca, hooked up the well pump and installed the pressure tank and fittings.

  • Nisswa firefighters cleaned up the overgrown yard and trees in the couple's yard.

  • SCR donated a new water heater and installed it.

  • Fyle's cleaned out the toilet.

  • Mark and Brady Feist, with Pine Country Plumbing in Pillager, donated and installed new toilets on Veterans Day.

  • Turner Towing paid to get rid of junk cars in the driveway.


"Throughout all of this, no one has asked for anything in return," Hall said. "If anything, they ask that they not be recognized or given any attention."

When contacted for comment, both Hornby and Gerdes said exactly that. They simply wanted to help someone in need.

"It was a hard job but multiple people — just by a few phone calls that were made — it just ballooned out," Hornby said. "It was just beautiful to see so many people put their busy (lives) aside and help."


She said: "The world is crazy right now, and sometimes with everything else going on, a little bit of positive and putting yourself out there helps the overwhelming feeling of what’s going on in the world."

Gerdes shared similar thoughts: "It always feels good to help someone. Always. And this guy was in need, severely in need. Something had to start going right for him. When someone calls, you just go help.

"I told Tom, I don’t know anyone who hasn't gone through life without needing help. I told him, it’s your time," Gerdes said.

Tom, 73, has disabilities that affect his mobility, and his wife is battling dementia. He said by phone that they fell on hard times and have no children to help them. He's now overwhelmed with gratitude to have water and heat.

"We’re surviving just very nice now. Before I was using space heaters," he said, adding they had no water since last February.

Tom wasn't sure what to think when a police officer knocked on his door in October.


"I’ve never really associated with the police department. I wave at them when they go by, but that’s about it," he said. "I thought, 'What did I do? What the heck is going on?' Nobody would come to the door, especially a police officer."

Tom, a Vietnam War veteran, said he tried to offer to make payments for the furnace, but was told no.

"You served our country. We owe it to you. We want to help you," he said he was told.

Hornsby said it was wonderful to see it all go full circle.

"They gave a lot of themselves throughout their lives," she said of Tom and his wife.

Hall was impressed that so many different people and businesses stepped up to donate time or resources to help Tom.

"This was very heartwarming to see and motivated me to continue to see it through on my own time," he said. "This is the reason I got into law enforcement. I wanted to make the world a better place by helping people.

"I've learned I can't make any impact on the world as a whole, but I can try to make one person's world a little better, one act of kindness at a time," he said. "I've always liked the phrase, 'think global, act local.'"

What struck Hall through this experience is that many of those who helped told him about a time when others helped them in times of need. Now, they just want to help others.

"I've seen the proof that paying it forward is always a worthwhile investment," Hall said.

Tom had words of advice for people in situations similar to his: "Ask for help. ... People just have to be assertive and ask for help."

"There are people who are a lot worse off than we are. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about taking it. I’m usually the one who gives. I’ve never asked for any help or anything," he said.

Related Topics: NISSWA
Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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