Pastor remembers flood for a different reasonA year ago, Rev. Cal Thompson didn’t know if he’d see his wife again or if he’d be able to walk his daughter Brittany down the aisle at her wedding. As he and his wife, Kelly, sat at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo at that time, they didn’t know what was wrong.
By: By J. Shane Mercer, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — A year ago, Rev. Cal Thompson didn’t know if he’d see his wife again or if he’d be able to walk his daughter Brittany down the aisle at her wedding.
As he and his wife, Kelly, sat at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo at that time, they didn’t know what was wrong.
This year’s rising Red River floodwaters and the volunteers laying sandbags in the Thompsons’ yard earlier this week brought back memories of March 20, 2009.
Thompson, the longtime youth pastor at First Assembly in Fargo, was outside plowing away snow at his home on Rivershore Drive in Moorhead that day. A record flood was coming and he was preparing to lay sandbags. At one point, he pulled on the snow blower and felt an “excruciating pain.”
Kelly drove him to the hospital, where he told one of the workers he thought he was having a heart attack. It was actually a dissected aorta, the condition that killed actor John Ritter.
“What you have is fatal,” Kelly remembers the doctor telling her husband. “I’m taking you (to surgery) right now.”
When he woke up in the hospital on Sunday, Thompson saw his daughter in the room and asked if he missed the wedding.
“I wouldn’t have got married if you weren’t there,” she told him.
On March 28, the day the Red River hit a record-setting crest of 40.84 feet, Thompson “walked” Brittany down the aisle in his wheelchair. He even performed the ceremony.
No screenwriter could have set up the situation better. The front of the invitation for the wedding, which was printed and mailed out weeks before, bore a passage from the Biblical Song of Songs: “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it way.”
Thompson’s daughter, Brittany Aakre, said her father’s illness, “just kind of put a new spin on your wedding day, what’s really important.”
Of course, there was more to take care of than the wedding.
Thompson said he understands as many as 150 peopled showed up at his home at different times to help out. Most of those were from his church. A corps of young men stayed at the home for weeks, operating the seven sump pumps and keeping the house dry.
Mark Del Greco, a 22-year-old Concordia student, was among the group.
Pastor Cal “has been a very big influence on my life,” Del Greco said.
James Baldwin, another Concordia senior, also pitched in. He said Thompson was a mentor to him and that “it was the least I could do to help him out when he was in such big need.”
They were both back at the Thompson home this week to help.
Thompson is doing well physically, but isn’t supposed to throw sandbags just yet.
“And, believe me … that is hard,” he said.
“What was really encouraging was how many of those people (who helped him last year) said ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to be there for you.’”
Shane Mercer is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.