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Guests look over silent auction items at the Ruth and Joe Brown benefit on Feb. 29.

It is unconventional for a news story to be written in first person, but this is an extraordinary story. It is one of generosity, kindness, support, love - and above all, faith.

It happens once every four years - Leap Year. This year, Saturday, Feb. 29, had been designated as leap of kindness day. It seemed only fitting to hold a benefit on that day, giving everyone an opportunity to extend kindness to a local family in crisis. And the kindness was overwhelming.

Five years ago, Ruth Brown was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more commonly known as COPD. Two years ago, she was told she also has pulmonary hypertension. That was when Ruth and her husband, Joe, were forced to face the stark reality that her lungs were never going to get better. And a year ago, at just 58-years-old, Ruth went on hospice.

“Both my primary doctor and my hospice nurse told me they didn’t think I would still be here in three months when I first went on hospice,” Ruth told me during a conversation recently. “I know it’s a God thing that I’m still here.”

Due to a series of health issues of his own, as well as the need to help care for his wife, Joe has been unable to work at his job with Union Pacific for awhile. Needless to say, things have been tough. Several of us tried months ago to talk the couple into allowing us to host a benefit, but they always said there are people who need the help worse than they do. But the time finally came when they conceded, and agreed to let those who wanted to help do just that.

In only two weeks’ time, a benefit was planned. Volunteers cooked up roasters of sloppy joe, made from donated ground beef. A member of the Brown’s church family donated baked beans, and hamburger buns - while Peterson’s Supermarket donated the remainder of the buns. People called and stopped me on the street asking what they could do to help. It was amazing.

The benefit lasted only two hours, from noon to 2 p.m. During that time more than 210 sloppy joes were served, and many others stopped by the church to say hi to Ruth and Joe and drop off a donation. Local businesses and individuals donated all kinds of things for a silent auction - which was really a last minute addition to the day. When all was said and done, this couple was blessed beyond anything they could have imagined, both financially and by the love and support they have received.

“I was so humbled by the benefit and all the love showed for her,” Joe told me the next day. I quickly reminded him the love was for both of them.

I have only been a member of the Gothenburg community for 3 ½ years, and in that time I have witnessed numerous displays of an outpouring of kindness and support such as this. When we hear our community leaders talk about the “Gothenburg Way” it doesn’t just mean in business or philanthropy - it is a culture of selfless giving that this entire community embraces. And that, more than anything, is what we should all be proud of.

As I write this Ruth and Joe are being surrounded by their family spending their final moments with her on Earth. In the time I was lucky enough to spend with my best friend, I can say with 100% certainty that nothing was more important to her than her faith in Jesus Christ. On Saturday, Feb. 29, He gave her one more Earthly blessing through the generous spirit of all of you who came or donated to the benefit. God Bless you.

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.536.6499