Browsing The Northern Cross

Schools column: Lead, love, and serve — a Lemon family legacy

By Teresa Kenney
Guest columnist

If life gives you lemons, you might find it to be a very lovely thing indeed if those lemons were actually part of the large, loving, and faithful Catholic family born to Mary Jean and Charles Lemon.

Ali Lemon
Ali Lemon, recipient of this year’s Lead, Love, Serve Award, comes from a family tradition of Catholic education. (Submitted photo)

The faculty, staff, and students at Stella Maris Academy know firsthand just how loving and faithful members of the Lemon family are and have been grateful for the beautiful Catholic foundation Mary Jean and Charles began to build 64 years ago, and most especially their family’s contributions to Catholic education ever since. Most recently SMA recognized one such contributor by awarding the Lead, Love, Serve Award to their granddaughter, Ali Lemon.

As a graduate of Stella Maris Academy this year, Alison (Ali) Lemon represents the last of the third generation of Lemons who have attended Catholic school in Duluth. Ali is the daughter of Charles (Chip) and Rhonda Lemon and is the youngest of five. She is part of a Catholic school legacy that spans 81 years. Her grandmother Mary Jean entered Holy Rosary school in 1940. It seems only fitting that a girl who was born on Valentine’s Day, and a granddaughter of Mary Jean and Charles, would be one of two graduating eighth-grade students to receive the Lead, Love, and Serve Award at Stella Maris Academy.

The Lead, Love, and Serve Award recognizes two eighth-grade students, chosen by Stella Maris faculty, who are committed persons of faith and who consistently exemplify Christ’s teachings. These are students who have demonstrated an appreciation for the Catholic faith and a desire for the truth that guides their lives in virtue. They are commended for their strong character, right judgment, and conscientious moral attitude.

As Catholics we strive to live out our faith, and it is well known that Ali seems to do just that. Ben Fish, a classmate and fellow graduate of Ali’s, believes Ali is very deserving of the award because “she was so kind and nice throughout our time at SMA. And her kindness meant the world to me,” Ben said.

“Ali is the type of friend you want around,” he said. “She was there to listen and help do everything she could to make your day that much better.” Sarah Murray, a faculty member at SMA, echoes Ben’s sentiments: “Ali is kind, fun, welcoming, and will always choose to do the right thing. She quietly puts others first, and her politeness and respect stand out in a generation.” Kristin Larson, another SMA faculty member, would agree. “Ali is unfailingly kind to classmates and staff and looks for ways to be helpful and hospitable, all without ceremony or attention,” she said.

Ali’s quiet contributions represent the importance of faith and education that Mary Jean and Charles sought to instill in their family. Theresa Landgren, granddaughter of Mary Jean and Charles, speaks for the family when she says her grandparents sacrificed to send their eight children to Holy Rosary school. “They never wavered in their conviction that Catholic education was the family’s strong foundation,” she said. “They cut back in other ways to make sure that their children had that component. And then it was passed down to all of us. It means everything to us to be a part of Catholic education.”

Now into adulthood, that family commitment has lived on for decades as many family members continued to actively show support of Catholic education through working and volunteering at the church and school as school teachers, religious education teachers, secretaries, and volunteers. At Stella Maris today, it is well known that if you see a certain SUV pulled up to the doors of the school, it is likely granddaughter Sonya Morris unloading supplies; if you see a lovely piece of art decorating the walls of the Holy Rosary campus, it was created by granddaughter Maria Landgren; and if you want to know the name of any student attending that campus, just ask Theresa Landgren.

Sarah Murray, who is not only a faculty member but the spouse of SMA principal Jesse Murray, continues: “This family represents the backbone of our school community. The Lemon family values education, but most importantly Catholic education, where they knew their family values and practices would be understood and appreciated. They were always leaders, always welcoming. (I strongly remember all of them when Jess and I first moved here, so wonderful!) … Ali encompasses all of what I saw in the many family members I have taught and interacted with.”

Mary Jean passed away in 2018 at the age of 84. Theresa speaks for her grandmother when she says, “She always said that all of us grandkids were the apple of her eyes. She would be so proud of Ali for being a good example of her Catholic faith. That was so important in her life.”

And what does Charles “Papa” Lemon have to say? “Ali has always had such an angelic smile and a severe sense of loyalty. She has such good work habits, and I love to watch her play soccer. She is always smiling.” It’s safe to say that somewhere Mary Jean is smiling, too.

Teresa Kenney is development director for Stella Maris Academy.