St. Mary’s to honor five inductees to Hall of Fame at Saturday evening Mass

Deb Moldaschel
The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch

St. Mary’s is inducting five individuals to St. Mary’s Catholic School Hall of Fame. Recognized for Service Achievement are Dorothy Haala, Verna Wendinger, and Rosella Windschitl. Recognized for Athletic Achievement are Leo Braun and Steve Seifert. 

This year due to COVID restrictions, the inductees will receive their awards at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday, Nov. 21. The traditional banquet will not be held this year—the inductees are invited back to next year’s banquet to celebrate their achievements.

Dorothy Haala, Verna Wendinger, Rosella Windschitl, Leo Braun, Steve Seifert

St. Mary’s Hall of Fame Inductees for Service Achievement

Dorothy Haala

Few individuals have followed God’s command to “feed the hungry” as abundantly as Dorothy Haala has throughout her lifetime. 

The second of four children, Dorothy (Zeig) Haala grew up on her family’s farm southwest of New Ulm. She met Delmar at a dance and they were married at Holy Trinity Church. Together, the couple had five children and have also been blessed with 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Dorothy held various jobs over the years. However, she may be best known as one of the “St. Mary’s funeral ladies.” This role began in February of 1984 when Dorothy 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, Dorothy was, in actuality, saying “yes” to a lifetime of serving others and feeding the hungry. Along with Verna Wendinger, the two amazing “funeral ladies” prepared 955 meals over the course of 32 years. During that time, Dorothy never missed a single funeral, even during the winter months when inclement weather made her 10 mile drive from the country a difficult journey.

Her son, Cory, remembers: “When I was in junior high and high school, I remember Dorothy making her phone calls to the grocery store to order supplies for the upcoming funerals and stressing about how much to order. She never wanted to be short food but didn't want to be stuck with too much left over either. It would become more stressful in weeks when there were multiple funerals or large amounts of crowds expected. Would there be enough food? Would there be enough help? Those were always concerns!” In addition to preparing the main meals, Dorothy also always brought a pan of bars or a salad. Cory added: “I used to complain at home about having leftover hotdish for supper, although I never minded the leftover desserts. I sure wouldn't complain if I had some funeral hotdish today! No doubt Dorothy knows how to cook good food!” 

In October of 2016, both Dorothy and Verna decided to retire as the “funeral ladies,” leaving an incredible legacy of serving and feeding the hungry just as God commanded.

Dorothy also 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. Dorothy continues to volunteer at Nex-Tu-Nu, the parish owned consignment shop. 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 Dorothy has given to St. Mary’s throughout the years. 

Verna Wendinger

Throughout her lifetime, Verna Wendinger has truly heard the call of the Lord asking her to serve His people and she always joyfully answered “Send me!” 

Verna (Haala) Wendinger attended St. Mary’s Catholic School. Her daughter Lana Mathiowetz recalls: “She used to board at St. Mary’s Convent. Pa, 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.” Verna graduated from St. Mary’s in 1948.

Verna married Leonard Wendinger and the couple was blessed with six children and have 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Along with Dorothy Haala, Verna is well known as one of the two amazing “funeral ladies” who prepared 955 meals over the course of 32 years. Beginning in 1986, Verna faithfully served as a cook for funerals as well as a supervisor in the social room until her retirement in October of 2016. 

Since the inception of the St. Mary’s Church Festival in 1968, Verna 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. Verna was also active in a variety of 4-H leadership roles. 

One of Verna’s grandchildren said of her: “Verna has been selfless holding up her community and family for her entire life by her work in the church and with her friends. This staple of our community is beloved by so many and we are grateful for her love. Her family fondly remembers the large spreads she cooks up for them when they stop in for a visit, her cutout cookies with sprinkles on them, handmade baby quilts, her beautiful and prolific garden, and her Christmas candy bags. She is a reminder of what we all strive to be in our lives — a human dedicated to furthering good, love, and light through every one of her actions. She has lived through so many personal and community tragedies and continues to be the backbone of our family and community. We are all better people because of her unwavering love.”

Rosella Windschitl

Rosella, the second of twelve children, 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. Rosella married Sylvester Windschitl and they had five children.

Rosella’s life of service is most illustrated by the years that she generously gave to St. Mary’s. In the 1970s, 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 Rosella 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. Rosella 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 motivates Rosella. Whenever the school kitchen has potatoes or apples that need peeling, Rosella is ready and willing to help out. Until recently, she attended various catering events and even made her famous potato salad when needed. 

Her close friend and co-worker for many years, Marie Bushard, said: “When I think of Rosella, she reminds me of Mother Teresa, especially her hands and her dedication to her religious faith. When I sit in the Adoration chapel and see Mother Teresa’s hands, they resemble Rosella’s hands, crippled and callused from working and praying and never giving up. Those hands have done much service for St. Mary’s. They are always busy doing something: praying, saying rosaries, and going to daily Mass. Those hands were involved mixing many batches of dough for brunches and meals. Making schmierkuchen and rolls was her pride and joy. She never wore out because she was always praying while working. She used her hands for peeling many potatoes and for helping in every area of catering, especially making glazed carrots and gravy. 

“What a lady to have as a special friend and a leader. We had many hard days, but her cheery disposition and big smiles and laughs got us through. She never complained no matter how much her hands hurt. She said that she always offered up the pain. Rosella gave many hours to many different projects with her hands to St. Mary’s. We always told her, when she meets the Lord, she should hold one hand down and pull us up there!”

St. Mary’s Hall of Fame Inductees for Athletic Achievement

Leo Braun

Leo’s 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. Leo recalls: “On the walk back to the classroom, he asked me if I were interested in playing on the grade school football team. I told him I had no way to get home to the farm after practice. That was about eight miles. He told me the Lion’s Club was giving kids a ride home after practice. So I went home and asked my mother. I didn’t want to ask my dad because he would probably say no. She said, ‘Let me talk to your Dad’.”

Fortunately, for the St. Mary’s athletic program, the answer from Leo’s dad was “yes” and he began playing eighth grade football. When his brother joined the Army, Leo 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, Leo decided to also play basketball. He says, “Needless to say, the car was worn when [my brother] arrived home from the Army.”

Leo had a prestigious athletic career during his years at St. Mary’s. Following grade school, he played high school football from 1955 to 1958. His football coach, LuVern Ahrndt, proved to be a strong mentor and supporter who did a great deal to help Leo in a multitude of ways. During his senior year, Leo’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 Leo was only able to play basketball during the 1958-59 season, he made quite an impact. When his basketball coach, Moe Moran, presented the Outstanding Athlete Award to Leo, Coach Moran said, “We don’t have anybody that can dunk (basketball) but we have someone that can get their wrist above the rim. I wish we could have had him on the team last year at the State Tournament.” Leo was clearly an athlete who always gave his best and that effort was applauded by those around him.

After Leo graduated from St. Mary’s in 1959, he received scholarship offers from the University of Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas, the University of Wisconsin and Mankato State University. Leo 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, coached by Jonny McKay of USC. They played against a team coached by Alabama’s coach Bear Bryant.

Leo 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. Leo opted to accept the job, propose marriage to the late Rosemary Battaglia and have a family—three children and four grandchildren.

Steve Seifert

While in high school at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Steve excelled as a three-sport athlete, playing on the football, basketball and baseball teams—each for three varsity seasons. On the football field, Steve’s self-discipline as a slot receiver, cornerback and punter helped lead the Knights to the State Tournament. Steve recalls one of the highlights: “I tackled Atwater’s running back Mike Kingery (former Major League Baseball player) from behind after he broke loose from the line of scrimmage.” Dave Freitag shared, “As athletic director, I had the pleasure of watching Steve as a member of the football team which made it to the state playoffs and, in my opinion, was one of the finest football teams that Saint Mary’s ever had…Those years that I was able to spend with Steve and his teammates are some of the most cherished times of my life.” 

In addition to the success on the football field, Steve 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. 

Steve was also a member of the 1979 and 1980 State Baseball Tournament teams, playing center field. He vividly remembers leading off the 1980 Tournament with a home run! The Knights ended the 1980 season as the State Runners-Up. Steve 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. His friend and former teammate Randy Wintheiser (’80) recalls: “Seif was one of my better friends and we could always count on him to be a ‘spark plug.’ He was very confident, always willing - and able - to take the clutch or final shot, stretch a single into a double, and a threat to break loose for a big gain. Steve continues his winning ways today as a successful husband and businessman.”

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

Steve is married to Laurie and the couple have two sons. He continued his dedication to athletics, coaching both baseball and basketball when his sons were in 3rd – 6th grades. He is also a member of Holy Family Church where he acts as a Mass server on special occasions and volunteers as an usher. The Seiferts make their home in Woodstock, Georgia where Steve has been self-employed at Seifert Marketing, Inc. for the past thirty years.