Whatcom Cares: Bellingham VFW volunteer Marian Stangeland writes condolence notes to veterans’ families

Like many newspaper readers, Marian Stangeland of Bellingham turns to the obituary page first thing every morning. That’s not so unusual, really: Death notices are among the most-read portion of the paper.

But Stangeland is scanning the pages especially for the obituaries of military veterans.

“I read (the obituaries) every morning and check to see if anyone was in the armed services. I send them a card,” said Stangeland, a lifelong Whatcom County resident and a member of the Veterans of Foreign War Post No. 1585 Ladies Auxiliary.

She sends one note of condolence a day on average, hand-written cards expressing the sorrow of a grateful nation. Stangeland said she thanks the deceased veteran’s family for their loved one’s service. She wants to let them know that more than just family and friends are remembering them and appreciate their sacrifice. She tries to make the message upbeat and encouraging.

“I’m just amazed at how many people have served from around Whatcom County. I’m sure some of them have moved here from other places, but still, it’s a big number.”

Stangeland, 86, was born and raised in Whatcom County, living in Sumas and Silver Lake and graduating from Mount Baker High in 1946. She worked a few years for the old Pacific Northwest Bell telephone company, where her husband was a lineman, and raised three daughters.

Her husband was an Army infantryman, wounded in action in Korea, and that’s how she became involved with the VFW, which represents personnel from any branch of the military who served overseas during conflict. She’s been a member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary for more than 50 years.

Four years ago she became the VFW auxiliary’s “Sunshine Lady” and began sending notes of condolence and encouragement to VFW members who were ailing or had suffered personal loss.

Soon after, she started sending the daily notes to families of veterans.

“The first thing she does every day is read the obituaries in The Bellingham Herald and send a card to (the family of) any veteran who has passed,” said her VFW auxiliary colleague Casey Curtis in nominating her for Whatcom Cares.

“It would mean a lot to us if Marian could be recognized as someone who goes out of their way to assist others in our community, because she does,” Curtis said.

Cindy Mellema, another VFW colleague, said Stangeland has sent hundreds and hundreds of sympathy cards to the grieving families of veterans.

“She has written probably close to a thousand cards now,” in four years as the Sunshine Lady, Mellema said.

“We do get thank-you cards back from the families,” Mellema said. “She does a wonderful service for the community. I so admire her.”

But Stangeland shrugs off praise for her efforts, saying that the daily routine helps keep her active.

“I also knit (wool) hats and given them to people who need them,” she said.