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Honoring a Joyful, Generous Life

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The Alison Hietala Lee Scholarship

  Alison Hietala Lee, 1981-2011.

Alison Hietala Lee grew up with a desire to see people for who they truly are. "She was very generous, even as a little kid," said Jill Hietala, Alison's mother. “In elementary school, Alison was often paired with her friend Becky, who had Down’s Syndrome. At first, I didn’t even know Becky was disabled, because Alison always treated her just like any other friend,” said Jill.

During high school ,Alison continued showing genuine concern for others. She was a positive peer counselor. “People could talk to her,” said Amanda Isaacs, Alison's sister. “She was a good peer counselor because she was a safe person to talk to when her classmates were having issues with drugs, alcohol or family problems.” Alison also worked at a center that took care of people with disabilities, including autism. Jill said, "Alison was always very good about seeing people with disabilities as people."

Alison graduated in 2000 from Hibbing High School and arrived at UMD that fall. She knew right away that she wanted be a speech therapist and focused on her coursework.

While in school, she became close to her professors. She was so responsible that she would house sit, clean, and pet sit for them while they were away. She also worked with an autistic boy, who became her good friend, and who went on to graduate school himself.   

Alison went to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in San Diego, California, to present a paper she wrote about language and autistic children, “Dysfluency Patterns in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders.” She received a certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in communication sciences and disorders.

A few weeks after graduating, Alison married her high school sweetheart, Kevin Lee. She worked at the Crow River Special Education Cooperative for a year. She was then hired at the Hutchinson Hospital and the New Discoveries Montessori Academy.

Alison’s fulfilling life came to an abrupt end in 2011. She died in childbirth and her newborn daughter died as well.

After her death, Alison’s friends and family found a way to turn the loss of a loved one into a way to benefit others. They started a scholarship fund for UMD students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program.

Alison’s two supervisors at Hutchinson Hospital and the Montessori School approached the family right away. They asked if they could raise funds for a scholarship in Alison's name for the speech therapy program at UMD. The family contacted Cindy Spillers, associate professor in the UMD Communication Sciences and Disorders program.

As proof of how Alison touched others, the scholarship fundraising project took on a life of its own. Gifts were made through the CaringBridge website. Two benefit dinners were held in Hutchinson and Chisholm. Two friends ran a half-marathon and raised money through pledges. The students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program continue the legacy. In 2013, they are holding a fundraiser for Alison's scholarship as well as other scholarships. A web page tells more of the story —

The hard work of friends and family has paid off. Over $25,000 has already been raised and the Alison Hietala Lee Scholarship will name its first recipient in spring 2013. "We knew we wanted to do something important to honor Alison, but at first we weren't sure how to get the ball rolling," said Robert Hietala, Alison's father. The family has been impressed by the sheer numbers of people who have contributed to the scholarship. "We've sent out hundreds of thank you cards," said Robert. "We are so thankful." Alison's generous spirit lives on.

Written by Korin Olgaard. December, 2012

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