Accidental connection: Co-presidents of local League of Women Voters didn’t realize the special connection from 42 years ago



t the end of a recent League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County virtual meeting, co-president Irene Thraen-Borowski asked fellow co-president Jeannie Norman to stay on for a few minutes.

Thraen-Borowski had a story to share, and she invited any other members to listen in as well.

The story Thraen-Borowski told was goose-bump-producing with a very happy ending.

The co-presidents hadn’t realized it but they’d first met 42 years earlier, when Thraen-Borowski was only hours old.

In recent weeks, Thraen-Borowski explained, with more and more news about the coronavirus and possible blood types being more susceptible than others, she’d gone searching for her blood type. That search led her to a page in her baby book, where her mom recorded Thraen-Borowski’s first accident. Norman’s name was on the page, as it seemed she and her husband had come to the rescue that winter day.

As she read her baby book, the story wasn’t new. Thraen-Borowski had heard it many times through the years, but it was the first time she actually made a personal connection to the people she credits with saving her mom’s life.

That day at the meeting, Thraen-Borowski asked Norman, who’s become a friend over the past couple of years, to think back to a cold and snowy Jan. 28, 1978, Thraen-Borowski’s birthday, the day she entered the world in a little cabin near Schapville at about 1 in the afternoon.

Thraen-Borowski’s parents, Judy Culpin and Ray Thraen, had planned the home birth, which went smoothly with the help of a midwife friend, in the cabin with no running water and a wood cook stove.

There were some complications for Thraen-Borowski’s mother in the hours immediately after her daughter was born.

A few hours later, after consulting with Dr. Johnson at the Galena hospital, it was apparent that the new family of three needed to head toward the hospital.

Culpin remembers climbing in the old truck with Thraen at the wheel. In an era before carseat laws, the baby was wrapped snugly in a quilt on her mother’s lap.

The roads were not plowed well and in most places only passable in one lane.

“The snow was just heaped up,” said Culpin. “It was very cold and it snowed for like 10 days before.”

On Elizabeth-Scales Mound Road, Culpin and Thraen saw a car coming toward them.

“We were coming over a hill and a car was coming the other way. She braked and fish-tailed in front of us. No one was hurt, but the truck we had then was smashed,” Culpin wrote in the book.

No one was injured, but Thraen-Borowski did end up sliding onto the floor upon impact.

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Neither vehicle could be driven from the scene.

Not long after, another car appeared.

“Some people saw the accident and gave us a ride to the hospital. (Ron and Jean Norman, Galena),” Culpin concluded her entry.

The Normans were headed home from a basketball tournament when they came upon the accident.

At this point in the story, as Thraen-Borowski related it just weeks ago, Norman could see what was happening.

“It flashed back,” said Norman, who has been so impressed with Thraen-Borowski in their League of Women Voters interactions.

“I asked if she was the one who picked us up 42 years ago,” said Thraen-Borowski.

The answer was yes.

“I remember it vividly,” said Norman, recalling that early evening when she and her husband, Ron, who was a student teaching at Scales Mound at the time, were driving in the wild weather.

Ron saw the accident first, and Norman remembers how they both felt sick about what had happened.

Hours old, Thraen-Borowski was there in her mother’s arms.

Ron offered to drive the three to the hospital.

The Normans pulled up at the hospital, the family with the “beautiful baby girl” got out and “off they went,” Norman said.

The Normans went home and continued on with their lives, leaving Jo Daviess County for years for teaching jobs elsewhere. A few years ago they returned.

Once in a while through the years, Norman said, she and Ron would mention occasionally to one another that they wondered what happened to that family they helped. Not even aware of the names of the strangers along the road, their curiosity didn’t go beyond simply wondering.

Norman, a retired educator, said that all these years later when she met Thraen-Borowski, a high school art teacher, Norman knew there was something special about her friend.

“I love Irene,” said Norman, who remembers watching Thraen-Borowski interact with her students while selling fudge at the League of Women Voters booth at Country Fair. “Irene is everything an art teacher should be.”

Norman is so glad that Thraen-Borowski went searching for her blood type and discovered their connection from over four decades ago. It makes their relationship now as co-presidents all the more special.