APPLETON, Minn. — The call came on election night.
As the votes being counted showed that Ben Dolan's first-ever bid to win a state legislative seat was not going well, the call came Nov. 3 to inform him that his mother’s health had taken what would be the final downturn.
Dolan called incumbent Rep. Tim Miller that night to concede the election for the District 17A state House seat. Nine days later Dolan held his mother’s hands in an intensive care unit in St. Cloud as she took her last breath.
“She was there for me my whole life. It’s unbelievable that she’s gone,” he said.
Joy Dolan died Nov. 12 at age 66. Her death came about a month after she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Ben tested positive at the same time and recovered after a short bout with a fever.
Until her diagnosis with COVID-19, Joy Dolan was the “workhorse” behind her son’s campaign for office. Not able to knock on doors due to the pandemic, Dolan said his campaign made more than 8,000 campaign phone calls, making it the first or second overall in terms of that effort among DFL candidates. The campaign also was one of the party’s top fundraisers in rural Minnesota.
Joy spent long hours on the phone calling for her son’s campaign, sometimes chatting for as long as 20 minutes with some prospective voters.
“She did so much for me. Like my best friend, the person I’d talk to about it,” Dolan said of the campaign. “She didn’t know much about politics, but she knew people.”
Dolan said he believes the federal government and local state legislators have not provided the leadership needed for this pandemic either.
Campaigning against Miller while his mother succumbed to COVID-19 was especially frustrating, Dolan said. He considers the lawmaker’s lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers to be “frivolous.”
Dolan said he is disappointed too by how many people in his hometown and surrounding communities are not wearing masks in social places. He’s been in businesses where employees are not wearing masks, he said.
Disinformation and the belief by some that the virus is nothing are frustrating, Dolan said. He pointed to the more than 3,500 Minnesotans who have already lost their lives to COVID-19, and the more than 260,000 across the nation. That many families, like his own, will be mourning the loss of a loved one this holiday season, he said.
“We can’t blame anybody for the actual disease, but we can blame the reaction of how we played politics with masks,” he said. We all appreciate American individualism, he said, but this is a time when we need to make sacrifices as a team to control the spread of this virus.
His mother was working for the Catholic Area Family of Churches in Ortonville, Minn., until she became ill with COVID-19. Dolan believes that his mother may have contracted the virus due to her work so close to the border of South Dakota, where there is no statewide mandate on COVID-19 protocols.
Family members did not know of any pre-existing conditions that would make her more vulnerable, Dolan said.
“The world lost a great person,” he said. Spry, energetic and a passionate Catholic is how he described his mother. Dolan said he and his siblings — two brothers and a sister — grew up in a household in Appleton in which his mother lived the message of the New Testament: Love others and do good things for those less fortunate. She filled the house with items she collected for the food shelf and the Toys for Tots program in Swift County.
Joy married her husband, Tim, in 1976 when they were 22 years old. They kept a very strong Catholic faith, according to her son. She worked for the Prairie Five Head Start program as a family advocate for more than 20 years.
At his mother’s funeral service, Dolan offered a eulogy in which he emphasized the importance of people getting it together.
Disappointed by all that he has experienced as a candidate while his mother struggled and died, Dolan vowed: “I don’t give up. I don’t quit.” The pandemic only convinced him how important leadership is. He said his goal remains to someday serve in St. Paul in some capacity as an elected leader.
“We need to do good things. We must help people who need it,” Dolan said in an email to Forum News Service. “That is my mother’s legacy.”