Zamboni sisters get a heartfelt sendoff
Sometimes, the stories write themselves.
“In 1997, they were the first people to come up to Tom and I at church, and they said, ‘you must be new. How do you like Owatonna?’ And when Tom had his kidney transplant in 2002, DeDe and Jean prayed and prayed that it was a success – and it was,” said Judy Montgomery.
Edith, known as Dede, and Jean Zamboni sat in the Steele County Historical Society, just steps away from the Zamboni Genealogy and Research Room, a gift from the women who were born nearly 97 years ago in the same bright yellow house they continued to share until two months ago.
The pair, who have been such benevolent benefactors to the community that the Owatonna Foundation chose them for the Spirit of the Community Award in 2019, greeted a steady flow of visitors at an appreciation coffee Monday.
“This is terrific,” Jean said. “I couldn’t believe it – this is for us?”
Dede shook her head and reminded her twin sister, “We’ve known this kind of love before, haven’t we?”
Then she teared up, the only time during the afternoon of well-wishes that emotion took over.
Jean has been at an assisted living facility for the past two months; a poorly healing broken arm necessitated the move for physical reasons.
Dede, though, knows there’s more: Jean has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and will need more care than her sister can provide.
So Jean will move to Benedict House in Rochester at the end of the month to live in the memory care unit.
Dede will return to Assisi Heights in Rochester, her “home base,” as she calls it, as a Franciscan sister.
Her move date hasn’t been confirmed. She is selling the family home and handling all of the particulars – including the remnants of OZ Printing, the hand-screening art business her sister ran with Alice Ottinger.
Dede taught and worked among the poor in the U.S. and Central America, founding a bilingual school in Bogota, Colombia, that remains among that nation’s best.
The twins will live apart for the first time in more than 20 years and at a time when family feels most important. They are the last of their line, but their history is their legacy.
“You can just hear it,” said Kellen Hinrichsen, the executive director of the historical society. “People will say, ‘the Zamboni twins…,’ then there’s a pause. They’re talking about their own lives, but anecdotes keep popping up about” the Zambonis.
“I took an art class with Jean in the 1970s,” said Maureen Mahoney, “and she remembered us. I went with my friend, who was in a wheelchair, and Jean just said, ‘you used to pull her chair up the stairs,’ and I did. I can’t believe she remembers that.”
“I have identical twin sisters,” she said, “but I don’t think they’ll ever be this delightful.”