Sisters turn to their small town

FAIRMONT – Fairmont has been home to the Schultze sisters their entire lives, and these days, they are appreciating small-town life more than ever.

The two are better known today as Lori Huffman and Lisa Dahl, two Fairmont businesswomen who both can be found working on Downtown Plaza. Lisa is with On the Wall, and Lori is at Enderson’s Clothing.

In November, Lori began treatment for cancer after discovering a lump. She has two types of cancer in both breasts that have spread to her lymph nodes and bones.

“It’s incurable,” Lisa said. “She can live a long time, but she’ll be battling cancer the rest of her life, though with the advancements they’re making every day, it could a curable cancer soon – that’s what we pray for anyway.”

The sisters, two years apart in age, are the daughters of Phyllis and LeRoy Schultze. They have a brother, 37, who lives outside the Twin Cities.

Growing up in Fairmont, the girls did everything together. They learned to ride bike at the same time, and later they worked at the same cafe. They also shared friends, and a car. And of course, like all sisters, they had their disagreements.

“We fought a lot growing up,” Huffman said, laughing, “but in high school, that’s when we really got along.”

Since she was diagnosed with cancer, their relationship has changed again.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” Huffman said. “We’ve been close in the past mainly because we’re in close proximity to each other.”

Quoting a familiar saying about friends who are like family, Huffman said, “It works the other way too. Your family becomes friends.”

Their father, LeRoy, is still remembered by many as a former Fairmont city administrator. He died of heart complications in his 40s. Their mother was 54, the same age as Huffman, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died the same year.

“[Lori is] on three different types of chemo, none of which were available 20 years ago,” Lisa said.

Lori is grateful as well that she doesn’t have to travel out of town for her treatments, unlike her mother, who had to go to Rochester.

“We’re lucky to have it here,” she said.

Each Wednesday afternoon, she goes to see the “wonderful girls in the chemo lab” at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, whom she praises for all they’ve done to make the experience less difficult. Most weeks she is joined by her 23-year-old daughter, Jordan Huffman, who drives down the Twin Cities.

Lori, who does not have health insurance, has not missed a day of work yet, though she is working shorter days than she did in the past.

“I have to work, but I’m fortunate that my chemo is tolerable,” she said. “I guess I’m just lucky I can take the chemo as well as I can and still function fairly normally.”

Encouragement from the community and many of Enderson’s customers have made the experience more bearable as well.

“I just can’t believe what people have done for me,” Lori said, tears coming to her eyes as she talked about customers who have brought her cards and one anonymous person who sent her flowers at Christmas.

“People are just so good, and you find out how lucky you are to be in a small town. I knew that already, but it’s certainly been reinforced,” she said.

Lisa had similar things to say about the outpouring of support the family has received from the community.

“Sometimes I used to think, gosh, I never moved anywhere, or never lived anywhere else or did anything else, but now …” she said. “Everyone’s been like family.”

For months now, a committee of family and friends have been gathering on Wednesdays after Lori’s chemotherapy treatments to plan a benefit, or BenePARTY, as the organizers have dubbed it. Helping lead the charge is Erica Volkir.

“If anybody ever needs anyone to do something, you can call Erica Volkir. Holy crap,” Lori said, laughing in astonishment at her younger friend’s energy. “Actually, I hope they don’t call her, because she needs a break, a very well deserved break. She’s amazing.”

The BenePARTY will be 6-9:30 p.m. Saturday at Knights of Columbus Hall in Fairmont.

Hors d’oevres and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided, and there will be a cash bar.

The event will include live music by “Relativity” and a Jenna Stevens Photography photo booth.

endors like Thirty One, Pampered Chef, Blessings Unlimited, and Mary Kay will all donate a percentage from their sales for the evening to Lori, and a silent auction will take place from 6-8:30 p.m. Items include signed blue jeans by Jason Aldean, a signed baseball by Bruce Bochy, framed artwork, Coach and D&G purses, jewelry, electronic items and more.

Many of the items in the auction have come from sales representatives Lori has known for years through Enderson’s, people from all over the country and beyond who wanted to help contribute to the cause when they learned of Lori’s illness.

“It’s good to be from a small town, but there are good people all over the place,” she said.

For anyone who can’t attend the benefit, donations can be made to First Farmers and Merchants Bank.