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St. Mary’s to have Hall of Fame Banquet on Saturday

SLEEPY EYE — Five individuals are being inducted into Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Catholic School Hall of Fame. This year due to COVID-19 restrictions, they will receive their awards at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday, instead of the banquet as previously planned. All inductees are invited back to next year’s banquet to celebrate their achievements.

The following are the inductees:

Leo Braun

His football career began early on the St. Mary’s Elementary School playground. St. Mary’s High School football coach, Ray Wilder, saw him playing football and recognized a young athlete who was already giving his best.

Fortunately, for the St. Mary’s athletic program, the answer from Braun’s dad was “yes” and he began playing eighth grade football. When his brother joined the Army, Braun was able to use his car to drive himself to and from practice. Because of the convenience of having his own transportation, during his senior year, Braun decided to also play basketball.

Braun had a prestigious athletic career during his years at St. Mary’s. Following grade school, he played high school football from 1955-58. His football coach, LuVern Ahrndt, proved to be a strong mentor and supporter who did a great deal to help Braun in a multitude of ways. During his senior year, Braun’s talent on the football field was recognized as he was named to football First Team All-Conference; Minneapolis Star and Tribune’s First Team All-State and Outstanding Athlete by the Sleepy Eye Jaycees.

Although Braun was only able to play basketball during the 1958-59 season, he made quite an impact.

After Braun graduated from St. Mary’s in 1959, he chose St. Thomas where he was able to play four years of college football for the Tommies. After his years of collegiate football, he had the honor of playing in the Minnesota Collegiate All-Star Game, being coached by Jonny McKay of USC.

Braun had the opportunity to continue his football career as he was invited to join the San Diego Chargers pre-season workouts. However, he had another offer: a job with the predecessor of BNSF Railway. Braun opted to accept the job, propose marriage (to the late Rosemary Battaglia) and have a family (including daughter LeeAnn, sons Tom and Bob, and four grandchildren).

Steve Seifert

While in high school at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Seifert excelled as a three-sport athlete, playing on the football, basketball and baseball teams, each for three varsity seasons. On the football field, Seifert’s self-discipline as a slot receiver, cornerback and punter helped lead the Knights to the Football State Tournament.

In addition to the success on the football field, Seifert was an essential member of the Knights’ basketball team, serving as a team captain and averaging 20 points per game during his senior season. He hosted his own pre-game basketball warm-up show that season as well. His talent on the court was recognized as he was selected to the All-Journal Basketball Team. The football state tournament was not Seifert’s only State Tournament appearance. He was also a member of the 1979 and 1980 state baseball tournament Teams, playing center field. The Knights ended the 1980 season as the state runners-up. Seifert ended his high school career with a .361 batting average and seventeen stolen bases. His personal accomplishments were honored as he was a member of the All-Journal Team and the All-State Team for baseball. His highly successful high school athletic career is a strong testament to his self-discipline to use his talent to its fullest potential.

Seifert graduated from St. Mary’s in 1980. Although he was personally invited by the University of Minnesota’s coach, John Anderson, to play for the Gopher baseball coach, Seifert opted to attend college at Minnesota State University, Mankato. While there, he played baseball for the Mavericks for two years. Seifert graduated in 1984 with a degree in Business/Marketing.

Steve is married to Laurie and the couple have two sons: Taylor (28 years old) and Carson (25 years old).

Rosella Windschitl

The second of twelve children, she began her life of service at an early age. She recalls her daily life in rural Comfrey consisting of the typical work of life on a farm, including milking cows and helping with the fieldwork. She attended country school in Mulligan Township, graduating after 8th grade in order to work for other families with their household chores. When she was 21 years old, she married Sylvester Windschitl and, together, they had five children: Gloria (’65) Helget, Eugene (’66) (who passed away in 2007), Mary Lou (’69) Mathiowetz, Darlene (’71) Tauer, and Jane (’75) Portner. 

Her life of service is most vividly illustrated by the years that she generously gave to St. Mary’s. In the 1970’s, she began cooking with the St. Mary’s Catering Ladies along with Leona Helget and Donna Helget. After Leona passed away, it was Marie Bushard who kept the catering business going. With Windshitl at her side, Marie and the St. Mary’s Catering Ladies have offered their gifts of time, treasures and talents by preparing meals for countless events and donating their profits to St. Mary’s. Windschitl also worked for 18 years in the school kitchen helping prepare meals for the students until her retirement in 2014.

To this day, at the age of 98, service is what motivates her. Whenever the school kitchen has potatoes or apples that need peeling, she is ready and willing to help out.

Verna (Haala) Wendinger

Verna (Haala) Wendinger attended St. Mary’s Catholic School. Her daughter Lana (Wendinger ’81) Mathiowetz recalls: “She used to board at St. Mary’s Convent. Sister Michael was a nun there at the time. Her dad would bring her in to school and get her with the horse and wagon in winter. Food was so scarce, especially meat, that the Sisters would ask for anything they could bring in to the convent.” She graduated from St. Mary’s in 1948.

On May 2, 1951, she married Leonard Wendinger. The couple was blessed with six children: Larry (’69), Leann, Lonnie (’72), Laurie (’74), Lisa (’77) and Lana (’81). Tragically, two of their children passed away: Leann in 1954 and Larry in 1995. The Wendingers’ legacy continues as the couple currently has grandchildren and nineteen great grandchildren.

In addition to answering God’s call to be a faith-filled mother to her children, Verna also willingly served his church. Along with Dorothy Haala, she is well known as one of the two amazing “funeral ladies” who prepared 955 meals over the course of 32 years. Since the inception of the St. Mary’s Church Festival in 1968, Wendinger was well-known for the beautiful quilts, dolls, and other items that she made and donated. She was a valued contributor to the Divine Providence Bazaar for many years as well as for the Hospital Fair (cook and crafter) during the years that it was held. Wendinger was also active in a variety of 4-H leadership roles.

Dorothy Haala

Few individuals have followed God’s command to “feed the hungry” as abundantly as Dorothy Haala has throughout her lifetime. Because of her obedience in sharing her time and talents with others, Haala is an extremely deserving inductee in to St. Mary’s Hall of Fame for Service Achievement.

The second of four children, Dorothy (Zeig) Haala grew up on her family’s farm southwest of New Ulm. She attended District 6 Country School, but spent three years at Holy Trinity Catholic School in order to receive her sacraments. She met Delmar at a dance and they were married at Holy Trinity on May 20, 1953. Together, the couple had five children: Jerry (’72), Cathy (’74), Chris (’76), Cherie and Cory (’90). They have also been blessed with ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

She may be best known as one of the “St. Mary’s funeral ladies.” This role began in February of 1984 when she was approached by a fellow parishioner who asked her to help out with preparing the meals for the funerals at St. Mary’s. By saying yes to a seemingly simple question, she was, in actuality, saying yes to a lifetime of serving others and feeding the hungry.

Along with Verna Wendinger, the two funeral ladies prepared 955 meals over the course of 32 years. During that time, she never missed a single funeral even during the winter months when inclement weather made her 10-mile drive from the country a difficult journey.

She not only spent countless hours preparing and cooking for funerals, but she shared her time and talents in many other capacities as well. She cooked and volunteered for the Hospital Fair and the Divine Providence Bazaar as well as for countless bake sales and meals served at St. Mary’s Catholic School or in the church social room. She also spent additional hours supervising the social room for private events. She continues to volunteer at Nex-Tu-Nu, a parish owned consignment shop. She also loves to sew, especially large quilts. She, along with a group of other women from the parish, made exquisite quilts for the annual quilt auction at the St. Mary’s Parish Festival each summer. The money earned from these quilts was donated back to St. Mary’s. It is impossible to even estimate the amount of time and service that she has given to St. Mary’s throughout the years. She has truly blessed the entire parish by willingly sharing her many gifts.

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