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Women 360: Painting her own path forward, Anna Lassonde is DL Tribune's 2021 Woman of the Year – Detroit Lakes Tribune

Editor’s Note: The following originally appeared as the cover story of the Detroit Lakes Tribune’s Women 360 magazine, which was included as a free insert in the Dec. 12, 2021 issue of the Tribune. Read the magazine in its entirety HERE online, or for a print copy of the magazine, pick up a copy of the Dec. 12 Tribune, on newsstands now.
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Lifelong artist Anna Lassonde has a favorite saying about the painting process: “You can’t mess it up. You just keep painting until it looks right.”
The more unintended ‘mixups’ there are along the way, the better it looks in the end, she believes, as the more layers a painting has, the more depth it has. And that depth gives it strength.

It’s a philosophy that Lassonde seems to carry over from her artwork into all other aspects of her life: The idea that, if something doesn’t turn out the way you at first envisioned it, you don’t give up; you reshape your original vision. You add another layer, and another, and in the end, you wind up with something stronger and better than you ever thought possible.
“She taught me that,” says Elizabeth Kapenga, Lassonde’s close friend. “Her ability to keep going, and keep pressing on, is incredible. She’s a very, very strong person to handle all the crazy things life has thrown at her. She keeps going and she keeps dreaming, and I love that about her.”
Lassonde has repainted her life’s picture several times over the past few years, as new and unexpected challenges kept leading her to add new layers.

She and her husband, Fred, and their two kids, Aviana, 11, and Silas, 7, have faced a series of unexpected challenges — including debilitating injuries and losing most of their belongings in a storm — that virtually wiped away their old ‘normal.’
“There was no normal, for like four years,” Lassonde says. “It was high highs and low lows; it was so up and down; it was one thing after another. When things would kind of settle down, something else would happen. You just kind of roll with the punches and do what you have to do.”
The family’s struggles started in 2017, when Fred was struck in the head by a falling truck part while working on the truck in their garage.
“He didn’t initially act like anything was wrong, but the next day he was having vision problems and numbness and I thought he was having a stroke,” Lassonde recalls.
Fred’s injuries turned out to be far worse than they had guessed; he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. His verbal abilities were affected, and he’d get dizzy, get headaches, and feel fatigued. He couldn’t function in his job as a police officer in Fargo anymore, and the family dynamic suddenly shifted.
A stay-at-home-mom at the time, Lassonde found herself returning to the workforce.
“That was a huge turning point in my life,” she says.
She had previously worked in long-term healthcare, and returned to the field again with a full-time job at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes. She continued to be the primary caregiver to her kids while also caring for her husband and managing the household.
“Basically, we started over,” Lassonde recalls. “I was working, and my husband was sick, and there were the kids — so it was a crazy time.”
After that, the hits just kept on coming. With the loss of Fred’s salary, the family couldn’t afford to keep their home in Lake Park. So, they downsized to a smaller property east of Detroit Lakes.
They put most of their belongings into a storage unit during the transition, and then a storm came along and tore the roof off that unit. The family lost almost everything.
Lassonde says she couldn’t have gotten through the shock of that without the support of the Detroit Lakes community — especially her “church family” at Community Alliance Church.
“They really took care of us,” she says. “Friends and church members came and helped us go through everything and save what we could, and throw out the rest. It was very overwhelming to deal with.”
Just as the family was getting back on their feet and settling into a ‘new normal’ at their new home, they were hit with another crisis: Lassonde was severely injured. While out enjoying one of her favorite pastimes — horseback riding — with her friend, Kapenga, her horse got spooked and bucked her off. She landed hard on her hip and suffered multiple fractures, breaking her back and pelvis.
The injuries caused chronic pain and, “I basically had to relearn how to walk again,” Lassonde recalls. “I was on crutches for a while, and had to lay down a lot; sitting was painful. I didn’t know how to get better.”
Unable to continue to work full-time and unsure of her timeline for recovery, she was feeling down and uncertain about the future. She also had time on her hands, and was looking for a way to fill it. She was in need of an escape, and some solace. She turned to her old passion, painting.

Born in the Twin Cities area and raised in the Dakotas, Lassonde’s love for painting stretches back to her early childhood. Though her parents were “not creative types,” she says, her great-grandmother was a painter, and there are some paintings of hers that Lassonde still loves to look at.
“People would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I would say ‘artist,’” she says.
As she grew up, the ebbs and flows of life pushed her career toward healthcare, but painting was always a favorite pastime. During her months-long recovery, it became a saving grace.

She dove into her artwork, operating her art studio, Jollybird Studio, out of her home part-time. She also started leading make-and-take painting classes around the lakes area, inspiring others to paint and showing them some basic techniques.
“Ever since I was a child I was always drawing, creating and writing,” she told the Tribune in a 2019 article about her work. “It’s something that I just love to do, I have a huge passion for it. And I love teaching people; I love sharing that.”
She paints primarily with acrylics but also enjoys watercolors, as well as collage and photography. She loves to use bright colors in her paintings, and paints all sorts of different people, places and things — but quirky, personality-filled animal portraits are her forte.
Her own animals are often her go-to subjects: the Lassonde family has two horses, a Great Pyrenees dog, 21 chickens, two parrots, a cat and two parakeets.
“So we have a zoo, basically,” Lassonde laughs. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, too — my free time is spent taking care of the animals. But I like doing it.”

She loves animals so much, in fact, that her studio, Jollybird, is named after her beloved childhood pet, a bluebird named Jolly.
With painting a part of her daily life again, Lassonde began to blossom, and her health improved. She found a doctor in Fargo who helped her manage and overcome her pain using muscle pressure point work and special exercises, and today she’s mostly pain-free.
The recovery process was difficult, and took months, but Lassonde made the best of her time at home, and kept on daring to dream. Soon, she was staring an adventurous idea in the face: to travel to Angola, Africa, to paint a large mural.
She had been wanting to take a trip to Angola for a long time, to visit a friend of hers who did medical missionary work there. But she didn’t know how she would manage the trip, and she didn’t want to go alone. Then, a few months into her recovery, an opportunity presented itself. She found out there was a local group planning a missionary trip to Angola, and if she went along, she could lead a project to paint a mural on the side of a women’s clinic in the Angolan city of Lubango.

The pieces fell into place, and she decided to take the plunge.
“I was dealing with a lot of pain at the time, but I still went anyway,” she says. “Sometimes you just have these opportunities, and you have to grab them.”
It turned out to be a gratifying, unforgettable experience.
Lassonde designed the mural in advance, creating it in an African art style to make the look of it relatable to the local Angolan people. The mural “tells the gospel theme, in one image,” she describes. It reads like an open book, with picture pages that flow across the clinic wall.
Since she was still recovering from her back injury, Lassonde worked with a group of about 10 Angolan community members and other volunteers to paint the mural onto the building. She made the outline, and then showed them how to paint it all in and bring it to life.
“It turned into their project,” she says. “The images were there, but everyone else was painting them, and I was just coordinating it… We had two weeks to do it.”
It was a collaborative and creative experience, Lassonde says, and the end result was its own reward. The mural is now used as a tool to teach the Angolan people about the Bible.
Since that trip, Lassonde has remained focused on her art, and has been prolific. Last winter, she moved her studio from her home into a space at the Washington Square Mall, and she’s been exhibiting her artwork at local churches, the Holmes Art Cellar, Ecumen and other venues around the area. She has hosted numerous public and private painting lessons and parties, along with a public art class. For the “150 Sails Up” celebrations in honor of Detroit Lakes’ sesquicentennial this past summer, she made two original sailboat creations. And she received a spring 2021 grant to offer free painting classes to senior citizens at local assisted living facilities — something she plans to do again in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, added an unexpected layer to her life, as it has for everyone. Social distancing rules made daily routines more complicated than usual, and Lassonde’s painting business took a hit. But in her characteristic style, Lassonde turned the hardship into a creative opportunity. She used the pandemic as a source of inspiration, creating a mixed media art series that spotlighted local frontline workers.

She was hit with her most recent unwelcome surprise in September, when a fire broke out at the mall. She had to hurry to relocate her studio, but fortunately, most of her artwork was fine. She did have to get rid of some of her fabric pieces and aprons due to smoke damage.
“I remember working in there, trying to move everything, and the smell was awful,” she recalls. “I remember seeing the rivers of water that day and expecting the worst, but was shocked to see that my studio appeared to be untouched… I am so thankful.”
She relocated into a bigger space at the mall, and at the time of this writing, was planning to relocate again soon, to a downtown space with more natural lighting for her artwork.
“She’s been through the ringer, with all the things her family has been through,” says Marcy Henrikson, an active member of Community Alliance Church and good friend of Lassonde’s. “I often wonder why so many bad things can happen to the same family and why they are tested as they are, but…she always points it back to the provision of her family and church family and those who love them. It’s really a true test of faith, to those that know her.”
Lassonde believes she’s looking at her family’s hardships in the rear view mirror now, with a growing distance between them and their recent string of struggles. Her health has improved considerably, and her husband’s symptoms, while still there, have also improved. Her creative itch is being well-scratched with all the painting projects she has going on, and there are more coming up. Her daughter is developing her own artistic talents, and her son enjoys tinkering in the garage with his dad. Their animals provide endless entertainment and comfort. The family has settled into their ‘new normal.’
“We’re in a better spot now,” Lassonde says. “We’ve been through all this stuff…and I really feel like I should share my story. Hopefully it encourages somebody to keep going, to see that you can get through to the other side.”


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