Two Harbors veterinarian meant so much to so many

It's not all that hard for Mark Schlangen to tell stories about his wife, Mary. It's thinking about a future without her that is terrifying. There is so much joy, after all, to recall from the 16 years they had together, the last five in Two Harbors.

It's not all that hard for Mark Schlangen to tell stories about his wife, Mary. It's thinking about a future without her that is terrifying.

There is so much joy, after all, to recall from the 16 years they had together, the last five in Two Harbors. The rock climbing, the numerous family portraits Mary captured, the '70s costume party she threw last year, the "garage-sale outfit" party Mary already had decorated the house for this year.

"They were the perfect couple," said family friend Paul Johnson, a member of the Two Harbors Volunteer Fire Department along with Mark and he has proof: When the two couples vacationed together at a Mexican resort, everyone entered a "Who's the perfect couple?" contest. Mary and Mark won.

The Schlangens, both 35, had lived in Two Harbors only five years. But from nearly the moment they arrived, both became fixtures in the small community, where it can be hard for newcomers to make an impact, Johnson said.

Mark stepped up to the Two Harbors fire chief position when others couldn't. He has been instrumental in training members of the Lake County Rescue Squad and other emergency responders, and he is a popular, energetic science teacher at Two Harbors High School. Mary was a beloved veterinarian, an author and artist, a Beargrease Sled Dog race volunteer and, in a pinch, a soccer coach for her 4-year-old son's team, though she knew little about the sport.


Mark Schlangen credits his wife for his volunteer work.

"I wouldn't have been able to be as contributing a member without her and her confidence," Mark Schlangen said. "She made me and everything I do that much better."

But now, there is a vacuum where the Schlangens' energy and enthusiasm had been.

The family was on their way to visit relatives in Richmond, Minn., on the night of Aug. 10. After stopping along the way for a special kind of popcorn Mary liked, Mark remembers that Mary said she was tired. He told her to lean her head back, rest, don't worry. Mary closed her eyes.

Minutes later, about

9:30 p.m., a 53-year-old woman from Cambridge ran through a stop sign in Pine County and crashed into the Schlangens' car. Mark spent the next week in the hospital with broken ribs and a cracked sternum; their two children had minor injuries. Mary died in the accident.

"She was so much to so many people," said Dr. Douglas Marshak, owner of the Grand Avenue Veterinary Clinic where Mary worked part time. For years after he joined the clinic, he worked to convince Mary, his friend from veterinary school, to join the staff. She finally agreed in 2002, and the Schlangens moved to northern Minnesota from Alexandria, Minn.

Clients soon began asking to see "Dr. Mary," as she asked people to call her, Marshak said.


"You want people who will care for clients as well as care for animals," Marshak said early this week, his eyes still filled with grief. "Mary was the easiest hire I ever had."

Mark and Mary Schlangen had been building a new veterinary clinic near their home in Two Harbors, where Mary planned to set up a satellite office of the Grand Avenue Clinic so she could work closer to home.

"It was not just all about work for Mary," Marshak said. "She wanted to be a great mom, too; she wanted to see her kids grow up."

The walls of the clinic waiting room were covered this week in sympathy cards from two- and four-legged clients. The cards say: "Thank you for taking care of me," and they are signed with many pets' names: Tuffy, Onyx, Snickers, Dancer, Wicket and Mini among them.

On the day she died, Mary and Mark Schlangen were at the new building, talking about floor coverings.

"To see her face, to see her envisioning herself in the exam room, it just felt like our life was all coming together," Mark Schlangen said. "Now, I just don't know what to do."

Some things are a given: Kaija and Eli will come first. Both children seem to be doing well.

"They are so good at living in the present," Mark said. "They aren't so worried about the future."


Members of the Two Harbors community are planning a series of benefits to help the family, and other volunteers from the Fire Department are helping fulfill the chief's duties.

"I know Mark is worried about how effective he can be" if he remains as the Two Harbors fire chief, Johnson said. How could he respond to an evening or nighttime call if there is no one else there to care for the kids?

There are other uncertainties. Mark is thinking of returning to work in a few weeks, depending on how his own injuries heal. He would like to see the new clinic finished as a memorial to Mary, though it's uncertain who would staff it. And any resolution to the crash that took Mary's life is not yet in sight.

The Pine County Attorney's office has not yet filed any charges against the driver of the other vehicle, pending blood-test results, according to the Pine County Sheriff's Office. A blood test is only administered when the use of alcohol is suspected, said Mark Baker, Minnesota State Patrol public information officer in Duluth.

On Wednesday night, after Kaija and Eli were in bed, Mark looked through some family pictures. Freeway and Sidestreet, two three-legged cats that Mary had rehabilitated and adopted, hopped along the floor near his feet.

They had occasionally talked about what might happen if the other one died, Mark said, though they never thought death would come to either of them so soon.

"If there was any way to spend just a few more minutes with her," Mark said. Was there anything that ever went unsaid between the two?

"No," Mark said. And even if there was, "she would have known, anyway."

To help

Two benefits are scheduled to help the Schlangen family in Two Harbors.

There will be a golf scramble at the Lakeview Golf Course on Sept. 15 and a pancake breakfast at the Two Harbors Volunteer Fire Department on Oct. 6. Wells Fargo banks accept donations to the Mary Schlangen Family Trust Fund, or donations can be sent to the "Dr. Mary Memorial Fund" at the Grand Avenue Veterinary Clinic, 5503 Grand Ave., Duluth, MN 55807.

For more information, or to volunteer with a benefit, contact Janelle Jones at 834-5081.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.