by Jim Boyle


The children in the blended family of Kevin Williams and Sara Suojanen were among the hundreds of students who went to their respective schools on Tuesday, March 17, to do the unthinkable.

The bewildered lot emptied their lockers, unsure if they would be back to finish their 2019-20 school year.

“It was pretty weird,” said Mallory Williams, an 11th grade student at Elk River High School. “It kind of felt like open house, but the opposite. It kind of felt fake.”

The news of closures broke on Sunday, March 15, and that’s when Williams and Suojanen, their kids and family dog decided to go for one of their usual springtime walks around the neighborhood.

As they talked about the looming closure, the topic of picking up trash along their walk came up. The couple often picks up a small amount of refuse and they dispose of it once they return home. They always encourage their kids to do same.

School, extra-curricular activities and bad weather often interfere with their chances to go on leisurely walks. Needless to say, the kids will have a lot more time for walks in the days and possibly weeks ahead. They got to talking and decided they would pick up trash along the entire length of their walk as it relates to the stretch of 193rd Avenue between Auburn and Tyler Street where a center median appears to be a magnet for garbage that has been either tossed or blows in the wind from the surrounding housing developments.

The group made good on their promise right after they emptied their lockers and were dropped off with garbage bags in hand.

They filled five of them in their effort between the efforts of Mallory; Tristan Suojnanen, another 11th grader at ERHS; Carly Williams, an eighth grader at Salk Middle School; and James Williams, a seventh grader at SMS.

Each did it for their own reasons.

For Mallory, it was a chance to get out of the house and collect some volunteer hours for National Honor Society.

“It was a good way to fulfill that commitment,” she said.  

Carly said she wanted to help the environment.

“And since soccer is on hold, I just wanted to do something to be active,” she said.

James said he wanted to “set a good example.”

For Tristan it was a way to get his “steps in” and “get volunteer hours for NHS.”

This was only one day, and they will have many more days to figure out.

Mallory expressed thankfulness that COVID-19 didn’t strike during her remarkable Nordic skiing season. She said she plans to read books, do her track workouts and pick up shifts at Coborn’s grocery store, where she works.

James says he will be bugging his sisters to play games with him and will try to play outside and take the dog for lots of walks.

Carly figures she will talk to friends on Instagram, watch television and read books.

Tristan says he plans to talk to friends online.

They all seem like they will continue to look for other ways to help others and look for silver linings in what is an otherwise difficult period of time.

“I hope we can all say we have become better because of it,” Mallory said.

When all is said and done with COVID-19, Carly says 2020 will be remembered as wild year — at least for the first three months.

James is perhaps less optimistic: “I say we cancel 2020 and go right to 2021.”

Tristan said he will be glad when the COVID-19 outbreak is behind them.

Kevin and Sara say they are both working from home, an option that is always available to them but is now required.

“We are thankful that it’s an option,” Kevin said. “I work for Medtronic, and the crisis is definitely having a significant impact on the business, which creates some anxiety about what the long-term effects might be. We obviously also have some concern for our parents, some who have had or currently have health issues.”

Mallory has noticed work at the grocery store being much busier and her track season is on hold.

Carly says not having school or soccer has been weird.

 “I wonder if we’ll have soccer at all this year,” she said.

James, a Land of Lakes choirboy, lamented that his basketball tournament was canceled as was his choir practice. He knows the June tour of the Northwestern America planned by the Choirboys is in jeopardy.

Tristan is bummed there will be no more Robotics for the year.

All four want a return to normalcy.

With their willingness to start off the sudden closure of school with community service suggests there might be more silver linings in store.  

As for distance learning that will start on March 30, that may or many not provide the normalcy they are looking for.

“Once that gets going, they may wish they were back in school,” Kevin said.  

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