Sherri Rose's favorite memory of her mother, Sharla Koski, was cross-country skiing together on the weekends.
"I'd ski out an hour. I was quite a bit faster. I would then turn around and come back and I would catch her and she would turn around," said Rose, who now lives in Leander, Texas.
When Rose competed in Nordic skiing for Proctor, and then East High School after they moved to Duluth, her mother was always at her ski meets. In high school, Rose would come home from skiing, eat dinner and then go out skiing again at Lester Park to get in more practice.
"She wasn't skiing with me, but those were the kind of things I did because she had taught me how to ski," Rose said. Of those moments, she said, "I wish I could have it back."
In December 1997, Koski was killed in her Lakeside home in a murder-suicide by a man she was trying to end a relationship with, according to News Tribune archives. Despite nearly 20 years since her death, it feels "like it happened yesterday," Rose said. "It was so sudden. It was cruel."
A permanent sign will be installed at the new Grand Avenue Nordic Center at the base of Spirit Mountain to honor Koski. In memory of their mother, Rose and her sisters Stacey Mortensen and Stephanie Koski Strother donated more than $10,000 to the Duluth Cross-Country Ski Club for its new Nordic center, expected to open later this year. The center will include a 3.3-kilometer lighted cross-country ski trail with snowmaking capabilities. The Duluth Cross-Country Ski Club has raised 76 percent of its $500,000 fundraising goal and the club plans to continue to fundraise and apply for grant funding, according to club board member Nils Arvold.
Rose said she and her sisters have never really done anything to memorialize their mother. When she saw information about the ski club's fundraiser on Facebook, she thought their mom would have liked it.
"I want a place to say that 'my mom mattered, she loved skiing,' " Rose said.
Strother, who now lives in Salem and Sunriver, Ore., said the ski trails are what she misses most about Duluth and Duluth's snow quality makes for a better ski experience than other places in the country. She remembers skiing on the lighted trails at Lester Park and enjoying a particular section of the Magney ski trail, called the "Bathtub," because of its hills, she said.
Strother said she was on board when her sister asked if they wanted to donate to the Grand Avenue Nordic Center.
"I feel like our childhood was pretty nostalgic in terms of the Norman Rockwell-kind of painting - you know, skiing out the backyard, playing hockey on our ponds because we lived out in the country near Cloquet until we moved to Duluth. We ate healthy, we lived well, we took a sauna every week at our grandma's house. It was just a really cool place to grow up," she said.
She visited Duluth with her kids a few years ago and the longer she's been away, the more she realizes it's a "stunning" place to live. But, she said, it's difficult for her to return because of her mother's death.
Strother said she's taught her friends to cross-country ski as well as her husband, who is now an avid skier. Her children also compete on alpine and Nordic ski teams.
"Even though as a kid, you don't enjoy it that much because it's hard work, I think it's really important for young kids to learn. It's something you really enjoy as an adult and you have that foundation because you know how to do it," Strother said.
Koski likely learned how to cross-country ski when she was a young adult, Rose said. Strother explained that Koski grew up on a farm in Cloquet and she was always sad that helping out on the farm meant she didn't get to participate in sports.
"Girls sports was just starting back then in the '60s and she said that she had always wanted to be on the cross-country ski team for Cloquet High School. She just always wanted to do that, but they just didn't have the money, let alone she couldn't be spared. When she came home from school, she had to work on the farm. She just put it in her mind that her girls would get to ski," Strother said.
Koski enjoyed skiing for the exercise and she liked to stay fit, Rose said. She remembered watching her mother run five miles down their road and she would put Rose in swimming lessons every summer. Koski had completed the American Birkebeiner once and was training to compete in her second Birkie the winter she was killed.
"I know she always wanted to do one," Rose said.
Koski bought Rose top-of-the-line skis when she was in seventh grade, explaining that "other families spend money on nice clothes, but we spend money on good skis."
Rose described her mother as a nice person who liked to be involved. She was loved by her co-workers in the St. Louis County Social Services Department, Rose said. Coming from a stoic Finnish family, their mother showed she cared by cooking them dinners and by being involved in their extracurricular activities, Strother said. Koski was shy, but was starting to be more outgoing in the later years of her life, she said.
"My mom was a really hard worker, always motivating us to do stuff, feeding us really healthy, really gave us a good foundation for life," Strother said.
Koski held a bachelor's degree in home economics from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Rose said their mother was a good cook and great seamstress who sewed Rose's prom dresses and wedding dress. Koski encouraged her daughters to take as many science and math classes as possible in high school, and now Rose has a degree in math while Strother is a doctor and Mortensen is a chiropractor.
Strother said she thinks about her mother every day. She added, "It was really sad. But I'm happy to donate to Duluth because I know my mom would have liked that."