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Faith, forgiveness help parents deal with daughter’s death

MOUNTAIN LAKE -- The morning after 21-year-old Hannah Stoesz was killed in a car crash on Interstate 90 near Fairmont, her sister and brother-in-law had the difficult task of telling their 5- and 3-year-old daughters that Auntie Han was gone.

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Jerome and Marilyn Stoesz hold a photo of their daughter, Hannah, who was killed in a car crash near Fairmont March 7. Hannah was riding in a vehicle that was struck head-on by an impaired driver going the wrong way on Interstate 90. She wasn't wearing her seatbelt. (Julie Buntjer / Daily Globe)(

MOUNTAIN LAKE - The morning after 21-year-old Hannah Stoesz was killed in a car crash on Interstate 90 near Fairmont, her sister and brother-in-law had the difficult task of telling their 5- and 3-year-old daughters that Auntie Han was gone.

After hearing the news, Addyson, the elder of the girls, told her parents it was going to be OK. Auntie Han had visited her in a dream, telling Addyson she was with Jesus and she was where she wanted to be.

“For us, we just have 100 percent assurance that she’s in heaven,” said Hannah’s father, Jerome Stoesz. “That’s what gets us through.”

“We know where her faith and her heart was,” added mother Marilyn Stoesz.

Hannah grew up on a farm just east of Mountain Lake, the youngest of Jerome and Marilyn’s three children. She loved life, she loved adventure, she loved her family and friends and she had a soft heart for children, described her mom.

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“She was always wanting to try something new,” Marilyn said, recalling the time Hannah went skydiving last year.

“Her little nieces were everything to her and she was everything to them - it went both ways.”

Hannah attended Mountain Lake Christian School and graduated from Mountain Lake High in 2014. She had taken the Post-Secondary Education Option (PSEO) in high school through Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington and went on to graduate with honors last May from the cosmetology program at Minnesota West’s Jackson campus. She was employed by Royal Treatment in Jackson.

During the early years of her schooling, Hannah participated in several mission trips, often visiting homeless shelters to serve meals and spend time with people struggling through life. She quickly learned bad things happen to good people, but through faith, anything is possible.

“Faith has been a huge part of the family,” said Marilyn. During the celebration of Hannah’s life, Marilyn spoke of the many prayers poured over and into Hannah and the children of other prayer partners as they faced the challenges and pressures of this world.

During the hardships in her own life, Hannah seemed to roll with the punches. She was always a forgiving person - she genuinely cared for and loved others, her mother shared.

“We get stuck oftentimes in life where we don’t choose to let things go and we get stuck, but she didn’t,” Marilyn said. Her daughter was quick to forgive - a gift not easily given sometimes.

Forgiveness The crash in which Hannah was killed was the result of an alcohol-impaired driver traveling the wrong direction in the eastbound lane of Interstate 90. Hannah was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her friend, 19-year-old Tyler Schoborg of Westbrook. The cars collided head-on about three miles west of Fairmont.

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Hannah died at the scene. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt.

“We’re so in disbelief that she wasn’t wearing it,” Marilyn said. “She always buckled before she left the yard. She was a good rule follower for the most part - she thought it was important. Why she wasn’t (buckled up) that night, we don’t know.”

Schoborg suffered a cracked pelvis in the crash, but lost his best friend. Hannah’s death only compounded his loss as his mom died three weeks prior, Marilyn noted.

The impaired driver, 48-year-old Mark Jason Wendland of Baltic, S.D., sustained non-life-threatening injuries. As of Thursday, no charges had been filed against Wendland in Martin County. The Stoeszes have not pursued legal action.

“We keep telling ourselves it doesn’t do any good - it doesn’t change the outcome,” Jerome said.

Instead, the couple wants to deliver a three-pronged message to all in hopes of saving lives and saving more families from heartbreak.

In honor of their daughter, they urge everyone to not drink and drive, to always wear a seatbelt and to watch “The Shack,” a film released earlier this month based on the 2007 book by the same name.

The film tells the story of a family who loses their daughter, focusing on the father’s struggle with faith and forgiveness after the tragedy. The Stoeszes were in a Spirit Lake, Iowa movie theater watching “The Shack” the night Hannah died. Marilyn said she had such a strong feeling that Tuesday morning to see the film.

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They learned of the crash after stopping at Hannah’s apartment in Jackson on their way home from the movie that night. When she wasn’t home, Marilyn tried to reach her by phone, only to discover missed calls and a message on her cell phone from Tyler’s father, notifying them of the accident and inquiring about Hannah.

The Stoeszes took off for Fairmont with messages from “The Shack” still on their minds. When they were detoured off I-90 at Welcome, they realized the crash was worse than they thought, and when they arrived at the hospital in Fairmont, they learned Hannah hadn’t been admitted.

Choosing to wait at the hospital, the Stoeszes were met by officers from the Minnesota State Patrol and Fairmont Police Department shortly after 11 p.m. Their daughter was gone.

In the nearly three weeks since their daughter’s death, the Stoeszes continue to focus on their faith and the messages of “The Shack” to get them through each day.

“What hit me most was to forgive each other - we can’t be judging,” Marilyn said of the impact the movie had on her life. “We’re not the ultimate judge.”

But can they forgive the impaired driver who caused the crash and cost them their daughter?

“I feel like I have,” said Marilyn. “If we were to see him face to face, how would we react, how would we feel? I feel genuinely concerned for him.”

“It’s going to be an ongoing process,” added Jerome. “You can say you can forgive him right off the bat, but how are you going to feel about him in a month or a year?”

“There probably will be things that will want to make us feel different, but we have to hang onto the fact that God forgave and we have to walk in that,” Marilyn said. “You just pray that the driver learns from this. ... It wasn’t just a mistake - it was a choice that he made.”

The Stoeszes said they don’t want to be preachy, they just want people to take a look at where their hope is.

“It’s so easy to be a surface Christian or believer,” Marilyn said. “When things don’t go the way we plan, there needs to be a grounded faith there to get you through - we want that for everybody.”

“You never know when you’ll be gone,” Jerome added.

Related Topics: FAITH
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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