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Frenchman’s adoption of grave connects Minnesotan to father she never knew

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- A man in France has helped connect a Minnesota woman to her father — 70 years later.

“A fellow in France, Marc Corriger, adopted this grave, and he came to Minnesota last summer,” said Becker County Historical Society Director Amy Degerstrom.

Though she doesn’t know the details of why Corriger was in Minnesota, she does know that he researched the French grave he had adopted, which belongs to Richard E. Magnon, and he was trying to track down any descendants.

Corriger knew Magnon was from Becker County, so he sent a box filled with a letter, photos of the grave, dirt and grass from the grave, leaves from the trees by the grave and a certificate of his adoption of the grave to Lauri Brooke at Becker County Veterans Service.

Magnon was a private first class in the U.S. Army and was killed in World War II. He earned a Purple Heart. His grave is in the Epinal American Cemetery in Dinoze, France.

Degerstrom said Brooke only had Magnon’s service records, not a family history, so she handed the research over to the historical society museum. Employee Jean Johnson researched the first thing the museum turns to — the phonebook.

She found Margaret Magnon in the phonebook, and “she had done a family history,” Degerstrom said.

The Detroit Lakes woman was able to trace back through her family history and see who Richard Magnon’s next of kin was — his daughter, Mary Lou Schneiderhan, who lives in Bloomington.

Schneiderhan, who hadn’t received the box yet, said she plans to write to the man who adopted her father’s grave and thank him.

“I thought that was awesome,” she said. “I’m anxious to see what’s in there.”

Museum employees also did as much research on Magnon as possible to add to Schneiderhan’s box of treasures regarding the father she never knew. She was born in July 1944, and her father was killed in November of that year.

“We found a few things here about him but not much,” Degerstrom said.

Johnson contacted Schneiderhan to let her know the museum had some information about her father.

“She’s 70 this year and was very excited,” Degerstrom said. “She was very glad to be receiving (the box).”

Last year, Schneiderhan traveled to Europe but was unable to see her father’s grave.

“When I was in Germany, I was on a tour and I know someone from Germany, and one of her neighbors came over and had heard my father was buried in France and wanted to take me to his grave,” she said. “But I was with another person and felt I couldn’t take that time away from her. He went there and took pictures and sent them to me, which I thought was really, really nice.”

Degerstrom said Corriger also brought dirt from Minnesota back to put on Magnon’s grave in France.

Since Magnon died so young, when his daughter was only a few months old, Schneiderhan had to learn about her father through other sources.

“I pretty much heard things from my grandmother,” she said. “He was only 19 and was killed from a sniper. I found that out from my uncle. I guess I’ve got one little picture of him in his uniform.”

She said her father liked music and she likes music, and she has his brown eyes.

“He liked to joke around, he loved life,” she said. “He respected everyone, and loved my mother very, very much.”

Schneiderhan said her father was born and raised on the White Earth Indian Reservation, and he and his two brothers were all sent overseas during the war.

“My grandmother was upset because she was a widower, and she was so upset that they took all three. It was really hard. I was told not to talk about him to her.”

Degerstrom said adopt-a-grave programs are fairly common. A fee associated with the adoption usually pays for maintenance of the grave.

She also said this is the second time in her four years with the museum that someone has requested information on a soldier from Becker County in a similar situation.

“That’s the story, which is pretty awesome, I think,” Degerstrom said. “It’s what makes this job good. What an amazing thing to connect someone 70 years later.”

“I know he was a very caring and loving man,” Schneiderhan said of her father. “I’m just very happy to have the little bit that I do have on him. I’m a little overwhelmed.”