'It's a really sweet thing they're doing'
On Saturday, March 20, the George Simson Auditorium at Detroit Lakes Middle School will be the setting for a four-hour community concert that is truly a must-see for local music lovers.
School groups including the Laker Singers and Laker Jazz Band will share the stage with Doc & the Scrubs, The Front Row, the Lakes Area Community Concert Band, and the Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church Choir.
And that's not all. Solo performers including Tim Eggebraaten, Emma Wood and John Hutchinson will come together to perform, along with the Adoration Flutes; Anne Ballard & Friends; and singers from Detroit Lakes' Rossman Elementary and Middle School.
So what's the occasion? It's a benefit concert to help Roosevelt Elementary music teacher Jane Ballard, who was recently diagnosed with a debilitating lung disease, to pay medical costs associated with her treatment.
Ballard has battled ailments ranging from Type 1 diabetes to asthma and rheumatoid arthritis for many years. But last December, her health became even more precarious when she was found unconscious and rushed to the hospital.
After being told that she wasn't likely to survive her latest ordeal, Ballard's family rushed to be with her at the hospital. It was then that they learned Ballard was suffering from Myobacterium Avium Complex, or MAC, a serious lung condition that is "very debilitating, very fatiguing," according to Ballard.
"It is a disease that causes shortness of breath," she said, adding, "It feels as if there's someone standing on my chest all the time."
Besides taking multiple antibiotics and other medications, Ballard must also sleep with an oxygen mask, and may even need to undergo IV treatments to get the infection under control.
To top it all off, Ballard has been diagnosed with achalasia, a disease of the esophagus that makes it difficult for her to digest food and drink.
"I'm going to be having another test on the 25th (of March)," she said. "Then they'll decide on treatment."
Depending on the severity of the problem, Ballard may need additional medication, or a surgical procedure.
"I'm really not able to eat much," she said. "I'm really weak and exhausted, so it's tough stuff."
Her supply of sick leave and vacation time has also been depleted, so Ballard has been relying on the school district's sick leave bank when she needs to be gone from school, whether it's for illness or for medical appointments.
"I'm trying to keep working," she said. "The school district has been wonderful about paying me, allowing me to access the sick leave bank, but I can't do that forever."
Despite her medical ordeal, however, Ballard said she still feels "so blessed" by all the love and support she has received from family, friends and colleagues.
In fact, Ballard admitted, she's having a little bit of a hard time contemplating the upcoming benefit.
"It's a really, really sweet thing they're doing, but I'm kind of embarrassed about this whole thing, because people have been so good to me already I really don't feel I deserve any more," she said. "I don't like having the attention on me, I'd much rather have it on my students."
But Ballard's dedication to those students, and her craft, has not gone unnoticed.
"When you mention Jane's name, you immediately think of all the hours she has dedicated to music and kids, church and community," said Roosevelt Elementary Principal Jerry Hanson.
"She has given every ounce of herself to her work here at school and with her other musical interests," he continued. "She always finds a way to say yes to every request, often ignoring her own health issues."
"Jane and I both taught in the DL music department beginning in 1992, when she came to us from the Mahnomen school system," said Gene Gaffney, who is now retired from teaching. "I have always admired her good-natured and positive approach to dealing with students. We are very fortunate to have her in our school system."
Gaffney has also worked with Ballard in the Lakes Area Community Concert Band, where he serves as director.
"She is faithful, talented, and keeps things on the light side," he said of Ballard's work with the band (though she has recently been unable to play due to her health issues).
"Jane is my friend and colleague," said Diane Jordan, choir director at Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church. "I have worked with Jane at our Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church for over 25 years. Jane is our church organist and choir accompanist.
"Jane Ballard has given so very much to her students, school, church and community... she gives and gives and gives," Jordan added. "Now it is time we step up and help her."
Singer Elizabeth Harman has performed many times with Ballard as her accompanist over the 11 years since she moved to Detroit Lakes in 1999.
"She is such a great pianist and a joy to work with," Harman said. "She has certainly made a difference in my musical life with her encouragement and talent. I know I am a better singer because of her... I feel blessed to be given an opportunity to help Jane."
"Music is Jane's life, and everyone performing at the benefit has been touched by Jane or performed with her," said Jo Johnson, another of the benefit organizers.
"In addition to an evening of excellent music, we'll have food and a silent auction," added Johnson.
The cost of attending the concert is $7 per person, or a maximum of $20 per family; there is an additional $5 cost for the meal. All proceeds will go toward Ballard's medical expenses.
To help offset the cost of the event, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is contributing $1,000, and an additional $300 is being provided by the Roosevelt PTO.
For those unable to attend the March 20 concert who would still like to contribute, a benefit fund for Jane Ballard has been set up at Bremer Bank, P.O. Box 827, Detroit Lakes 56502.