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Janet Holland displays her birthday quilt. Photo by Donna Palmlund.
Janet Holland displays her birthday quilt. Photo by Donna Palmlund.

A Birthday Surprise

Mar 2, 2012

A part of my duties at South Dakota Magazine involves sifting through story ideas from readers and freelance writers. We receive so many great ideas that we often don’t have room for them all. But this is a special one I wanted to share. Janet Holland of De Smet contacted us about a surprise birthday gift she received in December. Donna Palmlund of the De Smet News recently wrote about the gift. The following is gleaned from Palmlund’s article. 

Janet and Gordie Holland, married 52 years, were at the United Church of Christ’s annual potato feed and bazaar in November 2010 when a quilt being raffled caught Janet’s eye.

“I fell in love with it and told Gordie I was going to buy six tickets,” Janet said. Janet, a quilter herself, said she really didn’t need it. She didn’t expect to win, but thought the quilt was beautiful.

Pam Spader won the raffle and Janet recalled teasing Spader about winning her quilt. But the quilt didn’t match any of Spader’s décor and she put it up for sale on a household auction last August.

Spader’s sister, Brittani Wilkinson, told Gordie that the quilt his wife liked was being sold. He bought it and told Wilkinson he was going to give it to Janet for her birthday in December. Janet saw the quilt on the sale earlier in the day and went back to buy it but, of course, it was gone. “My sisters and I fibbed. We told her someone we didn’t know already bought it,” Spader said.

But Gordie died unexpectantly in September. After his death, Spader told Gordie's daughter, Bonnie Menzel, about the quilt. Finding it became a scavenger hunt for Menzel and her three brothers. They finally found it on a shelf in Holland’s home office. Holland had been a building contractor, and had secured the quilt in a box taped shut with heavy Tyvek tape.

The four siblings decided to wait until their mother’s birthday in December to give her the special gift left by her husband. One of the son’s took the box to his pickup to keep it hidden, but realized his mother might notice it was missing and returned it to its original location.

“I tried not to tell anybody in town [about the quilt],” Menzel said. “I didn’t want it to accidentally slip.”

Janet said she wondered about the contents of the box. “I’d noticed it on the shelf a few times,” she said. “Gordie had been cleaning out cupboards and going through old checks and receipts so I just assumed that was what was in there,” Janet said. “The day of my birthday party, I was planning to look in that box to see what was in there but never got around to it,” she said.

The family took Janet out for a birthday supper at the Carthage Cabaret. “Bonnie handed me this box and said, ‘This is a birthday present from dad,’ and she was crying,” Janet said. “When I opened it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”

Janet was shocked. She said her husband never bought gifts ahead of time.


Thank you to Janet, Donna and the De Smet News for sharing this heartwarming story!


02:12 pm - Fri, March 2 2012
Laura said:
A very sweet story!
06:01 pm - Fri, March 2 2012
Viv Derby said:
This story still makes me cry today...we all miss you, Gordie.
07:41 am - Sat, March 3 2012
Stacy Nielsen said:
I was lucky enough to call this man my grandpa! We miss his so much everyday! Love you grandpa gordie, you were an amazing person!
09:04 am - Sun, March 4 2012
Dianne Klein-Bell said:
What a lovely story.
09:05 am - Sun, March 4 2012
LORI said:
Wow...such a similar story. My best friend/significant other/fiancee bought me a pair of spurs in June for my Birthday. I told him, 'silly, my birthday isn't until August'. He told me, 'well then you will know I am remembering you on your birthday'. He was in a motorcycle accident on July 4th and died on July 5th of 2001. I got lots of use of them before July and they go on EVERY ride with me since. Every time I ride, I feel him there keeping me safe and his love every time I look at them.
I will always remember and love you KYLE 'EVANS' FAGERHAUG.
06:42 am - Mon, March 5 2012
Rebecca said:
Thank you everyone for the comments and thank you, Lori, for sharing your story!
09:40 am - Tue, March 6 2012
Bonnie Menzel said:
This was my dad, he was an awesome person and they shared so much, but he did keep this secret. Thank you Pam and Brittani for letting us know about it so we could give it to her for her birthday! It was an wonderful surprise.
01:49 pm - Wed, March 7 2012
Marcile Pederson said:
What a beautiful story and testimony of eternal love. I don't think anyone can read this without a few tears. It touched my heart. This story should be sent to Guideposts magazine.
08:45 am - Thu, March 15 2012
Janice VanDeWalle said:
Wonderful story about wonderful people. I am happy and proud to call them family.
07:45 am - Tue, April 3 2012
sue sibson said:
Agree with Marcile the story needs to be sent to Guideposts. It is a wonderful story.
08:45 pm - Tue, March 14 2017
Marsha Mutschler said:
This is such a awesome real life story.
I know these people as I grew up in De Smet too
07:52 am - Wed, March 15 2017
Tammy Anderson said:
Such a beautiful story for a beautiful lady!!

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