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Grateful people line up for checks from mystery woman

April 30, 1997

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) _ Maureen Pederson grasped the check in her hands, saying she felt as if she’d been touched by an angel.

Pederson, 72, was among hundreds in this flood-ravaged city and in neighboring East Grand Forks, Minn., who lined up Wednesday to receive $2,000 from a woman they don’t know.

They call her ``Angel.″

``With all my heart, God bless her,″ said Pederson, who uses a wheelchair because of emphysema. She joined about 200 people in line at the East Grand Forks Senior High School.

``I lost all my stuff,″ Pederson said. ``My house was low down and there’s 2 feet of water in there.″

Officials have refused to provide any information on the woman, who contacted the mayors of both cities last week and pledged $2,000 for each family whose home was flooded by the Red River. She was reported to be from California.

``I pledged that this donor would remain anonymous, and you’ll not get any information from me,″ Gov. Ed Schafer said.

``This person made a magnificent and generous offer. ... We’re just going to leave it at that,″ he said. ``This is good money. It isn’t cartel money. It isn’t from the Chinese embassy or even President Clinton’s campaign funds. This is real money, and it’s good, clean, safe money, and we’re pleased to have it.″

Kevin Dvorak, president of the North Dakota Community Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that is distributing the money, said the donor transferred more than $2 million into the foundation account Tuesday. He wouldn’t give the exact amount.

City officials could not say how many people would get checks. In order to keep red tape to a minimum, they chose to hand out the money to anyone who says they need it.

``It is going to be on an honor system,″ Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens said. ``We want this to be done in a positive manner for those who absolutely suffered flood damage and absolutely have the need for it.″

People eligible for the money are those who were ordered to evacuate areas of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Owens said. They have 45 days to apply. Each must provide a name, address, Social Security number and a brief description of damage suffered.

``You have to have a little conscience on this,″ East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss said. ``You have to decide if you are the needy, if you think there are people out there who are more needy, step back.″

Those closest to the river and those most immediately affected by the flood will be given priority, said Howard Swanson, the Grand Forks city attorney.

Owens said there is the potential for abuse, but the potential need is greater.

``I think if you help 200 people and you have one or two that slip through the cracks, this woman will have done her job,″ she said.

For Jerome Bliven, 69, who was waiting in line in East Grand Forks with his application in hand, it was an extraordinary gesture.

``This is a gift from heaven,″ the retiree said. ``There are very few people like her in the world. The world, and you can underline world, needs more people like her. She’ll get her reward in heaven.″

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