While the Audrey’s Purple Dream plunge and fishing tournament that was scheduled for Feb. 13 in Akeley has been cancelled due to COVID-19, area cancer patients and their families still need help.

“Cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID,” said Shannah Geimer, who started the non-profit in honor of her mom, Audrey Pidde. “We still need donations. Unfortunately, cancer hasn't gone away. We know what a hard year this has been for many and we are not looking for donations from anyone who is struggling. But for anyone who still has the means to do so, we are accepting monetary donations during this time.”

Geimer said they have enough funds on hand to help anyone currently needing help, though.

“I want to encourage anybody who has cancer in their family to fill out an application,” she said. “Or someone can fill it out for the family. It can be completely anonymous. We don’t tell the recipient who filled out the application. We just mail them a letter saying we want to help and send them a check.”

In the past, funds have been used to pay for medical expenses and travel to appointments. “It can be absolutely anything,” Geimer said. “If someone wants to take a trip to see a relative because it might be the last time they can see them, or just get away for a weekend with their family but can’t afford it. We don’t judge. We just want to make their life easier, bring them some happiness, some fun. It doesn’t have to be for anything related to their cancer. We’re there to be extra, to give the family some peace of mind.”

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Geimer said fundraising events usually bring in $20,000 to $30,000 a year to help people with cancer in the Akeley, Nevis, Park Rapids and Laporte areas.

In the past year, they have only received around 10 applications requesting help. “People shouldn’t be too proud to apply,” she said. “My mom, Audrey, wanted to go to Alaska. That was her dream. That was how this all started. We had a benefit for her that February of 2005 and she passed in March. She was doing well, but then the cancer came back with a vengeance so she didn’t get to go.”

Once her mom passed, Geimer decided to make Audrey’s Purple Dream a non-profit foundation. “After her benefit, Mom said we should do one of these every year to help people with cancer,” she said. “We wanted to keep it local and spread it out so we can help as many people as we can.”

Audrey’s Purple Dream started holding fundraisers in 2006.

One family’s story

Mark Murray of Akeley is one of the people Audrey’s Purple Dream has helped. He was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in 2014 and has difficulty communicating, so his wife, Donna, shared his story.

“I grew up in Akeley, but he grew up in south St. Paul,” she said. “When he got sick he had to quit his job. He retired and we decided to move up here to be closer to my family, Jerome and Arlene Biessener.”

Delores Lamb helped her with the application to Audrey’s Purple Dream in 2019.

“We were driving back and forth to the Cities for my husband to see his oncologist and for radiation he was on some pretty expensive drugs,” Donna said. “We had a lot of expenses. I wrote a letter and filled out a little form. It was really simple to apply and within a week we heard back. They sent us some money, and we were so grateful. They were so generous and it just made a huge difference. It was a Godsend for us. We had no idea that there was anything like Audrey’s Purple Dream out there until we applied. It was a load off our shoulders to have that to help. It made life easier.”

Donna said she found out later that Giemer is her next door neighbor. “I didn’t know her when we applied,” she said.

Donna said Mark has a hard time articulating what he wants to say now. “He used to work for the Dakota County Public Health Department,” she said. “He worked on computers for the home healthcare nurses. He went to work one day and was in a meeting when all of a sudden his eyesight got wonky. He called 911 and went to the emergency room and they found a brain tumor. Usually, they start in the lungs and that’s what had happened with him.”

Donna said before he got sick Mark loved to walk his black Lab and spend time out in nature observing wildlife. “Unfortunately, he lost his dog last winter,” she said. “Mark’s not very active right now, but it has been nicer to be closer to my family. We have more of a support group up here. My brother and his wife are up here and our son, Michael, too, and my sister lives in Nevis. Dad passed away in September and mom is still living in Nevis. I feel like we’ve come back home and Mark likes to be in the country. He sometimes walked on the Heartland Trail, but he’s not as mobile as he used to be and his eyesight is pretty bad. He likes to do a flight simulator on the computer and has a model railroad. He dabbles when he feels good. Otherwise, we don’t do a lot because of COVID.”

Donna said she quit her job as a receptionist in a dental office in order to move to Akeley. “With COVID, I didn’t want to get a job right away and possibly expose him,” she said. “A long-term goal for me is to help out with Audrey’s Purple Dream because I want to give back. But right now we’re still in the middle of this.”

How to give and receive help

Donations may be dropped off at any First National Bank of Walker branch to be deposited into the Audrey's Purple Dream account or mail checks made out to Audrey's Purple Dream to

Audrey’s Purple Dream, P.O. Box 272, Akeley, MN 56433.

Anyone needing help for a family with cancer can find the form on the Audrey’s Purple Dream website and mail it to the address above or send it by email to spidde@yahoo.com.