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O’Gorman Foundation will help battle adult pre-diabetes

It’s a foundation set up to honor a women dedicated to education, who died too soon from the disease that many adults face today.

The University of Minnesota Extension Office has started the Sharon O’Gorman Foundation, which is raising funds to support diabetes education.

O’Gorman, who worked for Extension for more than 30 years, died nearly 10 years ago from diabetes and kidney failure.

“Because she worked for the U of M for so many years, they wanted to do something,” O’Gorman’s sister, Joann Schott, said. “This diabetic education was something the U of M was working on, to prevent adult diabetes. It was real successful, so they wanted to keep funding it and came to us and asked if this was something we could use in memory of Sharon. We said that would be wonderful.”

Schott and her sister were raised in the Fosston area, where O’Gorman graduated in 1966. She attended Concordia College, and after graduating got a job as a home economics teacher in Henning. After teaching for a period of time, she attended NDSU and earned her graduate degree.

After finishing at NDSU, she got a job with the Extension office as an agent, where she stayed the remainder of her career.

“She loved education and the health education. She had such a compassion for teaching,” Schott said. “She was very involved in the youth and with the homemakers in Becker County.”

O’Gorman retired from Extension in 2003 due to her declining health. She died in 2004 at the age of 55.

A diabetic since she was 12 years old, O’Gorman received a kidney transplant in the 1970s. She died of diabetes and kidney failure.

O’Gorman was married to Jim O’Gorman, an attorney in Detroit Lakes. He died of cancer about 18 months before Sharon. They had one daughter, Anna, who went to live with her aunt and uncle, Joann and Clay Schott, after her mother’s death.

Anna, who was 10 when her father died and 11 when her mother died, is just about finished with her schooling at UND.

“She has one semester of an internship left and then she’ll be a social worker,” Schott said. “She’s been doing good.”

Before the Extension office decided to honor O’Gorman’s memory in the name of education, Extension educators started offering diabetes prevention classes a couple years ago. They turned out successful as it is a heavily talked about subject and concern for many adults.

According to statistics, 1.4 million of the 4.1 million people in Minnesota are at risk for pre-diabetes. Many cases could be prevented.

“We have implanted the I Can Prevent Diabetes program, and it helps people eat healthy, lose weight and be more physically active, change their lifestyle,” Sara Van Offelen, Extension regional coordinator for the I Can Prevent Diabetes program.

With the success of the programming, Essentia Health St. Mary’s and Extension paired to offer the I Can Prevent Diabetes classes for more adults.

The classes are free and take a one-year commitment. The core classes are 16 weeks, and then those involved in the class meets monthly after that to keep on track with healthy eating and exercise habits.

The weekly core sessions go over topics such as reading labels, recipes and food tastings, reducing fat, reducing stress, exercise programs, how to plan ahead in situations like dining out or family gatherings and more.

Participants also go through weigh-ins, chart progress and how to document and journal their food intake and physical activity for the week.

The class also makes food suggestions, so that while people may not like food prepared a certain way, the class will give them ideas of different ways to prepare something they might like better.

Van Offelen said though money from the O’Gorman Foundation hasn’t been used for the programming yet, it will be in the future.

Besides the I Can Prevent Diabetes program, the foundation will help fund other “prevention programs developed by Extension,” she added.

“Preventing diabetes is very important in the state of Minnesota,” Van Offelen said. “It just takes a modest amount of weight change to reduce the chances of developing diabetes.”

Funds from the donations that will help build the Sharon O’Gorman Fund will help Van Offelen and other Extension agents educate the public on preventing diabetes.

“She was very active with 4-H and families in the community,” Schott said of her sister. “We’re real appreciative that this can be done in memory of her. It’s very exciting for Anna and my family. Thanks to everyone for their gift to it.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.