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Fargo neighbors rally around Saberi family

Jane Voglewede, left, and Karen Mailloux tie a ribbon Monday evening in support of Roxana Saberi near the home of Saberi's parents. Neighbors plan to decorate the trees along a two- or three-block stretch of the Saberis' home today. (Michael Vosburg/The Forum)1 / 2
Jean Melicher, right, ties ribbons Monday evening in her home in support of neighbors Reza and Akiko Saberi, whose daughter, Roxana, is jailed in Iran. Karen Mailloux, back, helps. (Michael Vosburg /The Forum)2 / 2

FARGO - Neighbors of Roxana Saberi's family plan to tie yellow ribbons around their trees to show support for the imprisoned Fargo journalist they watched grow up.

The gesture is one small way residents of north Fargo's Peterson Parkway can help the family, said Kevin Melicher, who lives five doors down from her parents, Reza and Akiko.

Melicher and his wife, Jean, used a neighborhood e-mail list organized during the flood to contact others in the area about the yellow ribbon idea.

Right away, they got 20 replies from other neighbors eager to participate.

"It has taken off, more than what we thought," Kevin Melicher said.

The residents have been watching Roxana Saberi's case closely, but the weekend's news of her eight-year prison sentence on espionage charges in Iran elevated their concerns.

Many in the neighborhood have children who were Saberi's classmates at Fargo North High School and Concordia College.

Gary Mailloux, who has known the family for about 30 years and was athletic director at Fargo North while Saberi played soccer there, said neighbors want to do something to help the family, but they feel helpless.

"During the flood, there was something to do," Mailloux said. "This is one where we have empathy, but there's really not anything substantive that we can do.

Just wait anxiously like the family is and hope that some good sense prevails and things will work out."

Neighbors are establishing a benefit fund at State Bank and Trust to assist the family with travel costs, legal fees and any other expenses, Melicher said.

Neighbors also have volunteered to help care for the Saberis' house and yard while they're in Iran supporting their daughter.

Neighbor John Runsvold said he hopes it comforts the parents to know their neighbors are standing behind them.

"My heart goes out to that family," Runsvold said. "I feel sorry for them and what they've had to go through."

Saberi was scheduled to be the commencement speaker for Concordia's graduation on May 3.

A replacement speaker will be announced today.