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Hazel Jacobsen-Theel remembered

When the LeDuc Historic Estate was rededicated and opened to the public in 2005, Hazel Jacobsen Theel was one of the honored guests.

As people walked around the grounds and into the house, she sat outside the carriage barn and looked around. A smile grew on her face and she turned to a reporter.

"We did it," she said. "Isn't it wonderful?"

She and others had fought the battle, so to speak, and the State of Minnesota in obtaining funds to restore the house. It took many years, but their efforts were eventually successful.

Jacobsen-Theel, whose passion was connecting the Hastings community to its history, died Monday, Oct. 29 in Hastings. She was 103.

Hastings was not Jacobsen -Theel's birth place. That was Rolla, N.D. She would come to Hastings in the early 1950s with her husband Albert Jacobsen, and for years they ran the hardware store downtown. He was also active in community activities and was one of those residents who supported the drive for a local hospital.

Hazel soon became passionate about the city's history, its many historic buildings and homes. Her interest soon motivated others to do so likewise. As she recorded the history of the city, she shared it. Many Hastings students can recall visits to the Jacobsens' third floor apartment as Hazel helped them with their history projects. She always hoped that the history she loved would not only be passed along to the students, but would also be retained and valued.

Through her efforts, many of the community's historic buildings were named to the National Register of Historic Places, preserving them well into the future. She led bus tours around the city and helped to establish historic files, now permanently stored in the Pioneer Room at Hastings City Hall.

The mansion was very special to Hazel from her first contact with Carroll Simmons, who ran his antique business there, to its history of years past, to the effort to get it restored.

Former Hastings Mayor Lu Stoffel met Jacobsen-Theel more than 50 years ago. Jacobsen-Theel introduced Stoffel to Simmons and the mansion, and the connection with history and the mansion was cemented for Stoffel. So was her relationship with Jacobsen-Theel. They would work together on many projects, including restoring the courthouse to City Hall.

There were two men, Bob Dodge and Ron Zastrow, who would work with Hazel on different projects.

"Hazel called them her boys," said Stoffel. "She was always thinking up new ideas for them and she would lead them."

Dodge died several years ago, but Zastrow still lives in the area and fondly remembers his relationship with Jacobsen-Theel. In an interview with the Star Gazette three years ago -- Hazel's 100th birthday -- he remembered several projects.

"Hazel was trying to raise some funds for some project and there was an argument going back and forth among the groups when Hazel brought out her famous cheesecake,"? Zastrow said. "Of course, he wrote the check. They always said, as soon as she brought out the cheesecake, get your checkbook out."

On another occasion, Hazel had heard that the old school bell was in storage and was not being used. She invited some Hastings High School graduates to her apartment. The cheesecake was placed on the table.

"The door is locked," Zastrow said she told them. "And you're not going anywhere until you have written the check."

The check was written, the bell was restored and placed at the former Hastings Middle School site on Vermillion Street, until it was moved to the high school 10 years ago. Another piece of Hastings history was saved.

After Albert Jacobsen died, Hazel stayed here in Hastings. She did marry again, to a former High school classmate, Bruce Theel. After she was widowed again, she lived in a downtown apartment, before moving into Regina Residence.

Her 90th birthday was celebrated at Hastings City Hall and her 100th at the LeDuc Historic Estate.

She is survived by her son, Jim; daughter Karen, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, many friends, and a community she helped to connect to its history.