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Retired Hubbard judge finds way to get van to help hospice children in Poland

When former judge Jay Mondry left the court bench, he headed for another tour of duty - as an international volunteer.

He learned of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from veteran volunteer Emeline Cook. The Akeley resident encouraged him to make the trip to Torun, Poland to share his talents.

He was to teach a group of 16- and 17-year-olds about his homeland, heading out beforehand to gather a plethora of US items for his students-to-be.

But his excursion was soon to take a detour, and send him down the path of a fundraiser.

While at the UNESCO English Language Camp last summer, the American teaching staff was invited to one of Poland's few hospices, a charitable organization serving children with cancer.

The hospice movement is in the embryonic stage in Poland. Two elderly grandparents have worked to establish a non-profit facility for terminally ill children in Torun and the surrounding region. The rooms are warm and cozy with toys aplenty.

Mondry, impressed with the initiative, asked via an interpreter what the "Hope for Children" facility needed.

"We desperately need a van to transport ill children," hospice director Olena Bozemska told him.

"Two minutes before that, I'd been thinking about the Yankees beating the Twins," he recalled.

But his focus was about to shift.

"I'll get you the van," Mondry told the interpreter, who assumed he was joking.

"Maria (the interpreter)," he reiterated, "I will get a van."

"The phone was soon to become my modus operandi," Mondry said.

Once back home, he established a non-profit organization, North Country Charity Group, Inc., with wife Judy, Mark Thomason and Garnett Pederson board members.

Mondry's phone calls to friends and family were followed up by letters. He penned about 20 a night, sharing his experience at the children's hospice.

Many responded after an article appeared in the Enterprise, but his $35,000 goal began to seem a bit lofty.

Then a simple card arrived in the mail, "I read the article and want to help," the benefactor wrote. A $500 check was enclosed.

"I knew this baby was going to make it," Mondry said. "Talk about lighting my fire."

But at $19,000, he was again faced with "what-did-I-get-myself-into?" doubts.

Then more checks - ranging from $10 to $1,000 - would arrive in the mail. Clubs and civic organizations rose to the occasion.

By March, "it happened." He'd met and surpassed his goal, $50,000 raised for the van. A promise would be kept.

A chance discussion with Greg Anderson of Thielen Motors put him in contact with Harry Pearce, the former general counsel for General Motors. Pearce introduced him to David Flannigan, a GM employee in Poland who agreed to furnish a van "at a substantial discount."

Mondry returned to Poland early this summer. A stop in Warsaw was on the docket to thank Flannigan before his teaching began.

The official presentation was June 30, Mondry accompanied by Cook and school staff members.

A soft rain was falling as a group of 30 gathered for the presentation of the blue 15-passenger Opel van

Olena Bozemska, "overwhelmed with gratitude," had kind words for Minnesotans' generosity.

A priest blessed the van with holy water and the equivalent of a lieutenant governor arrived for the occasion, television cameras rolling and newspaper reporters documenting the event.

"It was a very emotional experience," said Mondry. "I was the messenger," he said. "It wasn't Jay Mondry with a check. It was the people of Minnesota and North Dakota who saw, through my message, the need to help children."

The remaining funds, he said, will likely be invested, with the interest used for the orphanage's utility costs. Less than 1.5 percent of the money was used for corporate expenses, he noted.

Meanwhile, Mondry has yet to decide if he will return to Poland. "But I will remain involved with the hospice and orphanage," he pledged.