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Best Christmas Ever: Rural Pequot Lakes family receives Christmas surprise

Outpouring of community support was complete surprise.

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Travis and Simone Aune watch son Landon Gordon open gifts from Best Christmas Ever while daughter Myah Aune tries chewing on the head of her brand new doll. The family was surprised on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 by the Best Christmas Ever crew bringing a pile of gifts to help the family after a rough few months. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

The Aune family, of rural Pequot Lakes, has had a rough year of medical issues. Little did they know that friends and neighbors were working behind the scenes to help them ring in the Christmas season as recipients of the Best Christmas Ever program.

This program, sponsored by Minnesota Traders Co. in Pequot Lakes for the Aune family this year, collects donations of cash and presents for a family experiencing hardship. Those items are then delivered when the family is not expecting it.


" We've been dealing with stroke, COVID, hand, foot and mouth disease, RSV. We just got bombarded on top of trying to have a baby. Luckily we ended up having a healthy little boy."

— Simone Aune.


For the Aune family, that day was Saturday, Dec. 18.

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After picking up another utility trailer full of gifts, volunteers drove out to make the season for Simone and Travis Aune and their young children - 3-week-old Weston Aune, Landon Gordon and Myah Aune.

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Simone Aune beams as Myah Aune immediately takes a liking to a new baby doll gifted to her Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 by the Best Christmas Ever program. Son Landon Gordon opened a box full of cars and a track for them to race on next. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

While 33 weeks pregnant with Weston, the whole family became sick with COVID-19 and Simone was hospitalized for six days. Only weeks after returning home from the hospital, Travis had a stroke. Challenges kept pummeling the family.

"We've been dealing with stroke; COVID; hand, foot and mouth disease; RSV (a respiratory virus)," Simone said. "We just got bombarded on top of trying to have a baby. Luckily, we ended up having a healthy little boy."

Simone had never heard of the Best Christmas Ever program, so it's safe to say she had no idea what was coming her way that morning.

"It's overwhelming," Simone said. "I'm so grateful."

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When volunteers arrived, a toboggan and two fishing poles were immediately obvious gifts up front. Each family member was then asked to open one gift. Simone opened a pampering kit complete with Epsom salts and bath bombs. Myah received a baby doll. Landon open matchbox cars and a track, and Travis got more fishing gear.

Asked what he was most excited about, Landon was speechless and instead of choosing the toys, he pointed to his brother, Weston, who was born only three weeks earlier.

The family also gets to take a ride in a "Sherp" from The Getaway on County Road 1 - a large all-terrain vehicle with enormous tires that can traverse almost any environment, including open water.

The family also received a donation of $4,500 to help defray expenses.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

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Simone Aune beams as Myah Aune immediately takes a liking to a new baby doll gifted to her Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 by the Best Christmas Ever program. Son Landon Gordon opened a box full of cars and a track for them to race on next. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

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Simone Aune beams as Myah Aune immediately takes a liking to a new baby doll gifted to her Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 by the Best Christmas Ever program. Son Landon Gordon opened a box full of cars and a track for them to race on next. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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