Local woman recognized for sewing masks in pandemic

JOE GITZEN (left) and his wife Sara wanted to recognize their neighbors, Tom and Barb Tornow, for their work during the pandemic. On Thursday, Deb Sorenson, branch manager of Great Western Bank, and Tanner DeKam, personal banker, presented Barb Tornow with $300 in Mad Money. Gabe Gitzen (front left) and his sister Genesis enjoyed the balloons.

Gabe and Gen Gitzen scampered over to visit their neighbors on Thursday afternoon with eagerness. When Barb and Tom Tornow opened the door, they scooted inside.

"Gabe and Gen want to learn how to sew," Barb Tornow said to their parents, Joe and Sarah Gitzen, when she and Tom stepped outside wearing masks -- to be surprised to find a small crowd waiting for them.

Barb Tornow was being recognized by Great Western Bank with a Great Gifts of Gratitude award for going above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was nominated by both Joe and Sarah Gitzen for this award.

"During the pandemic, she has made well over 300 cloth face masks. She stayed up to the wee hours of the morning making them," Joe wrote. "She donated them to nursing homes and assisted living, friends and family."

On Thursday afternoon, as the group stood outside with several adults wearing glasses as well as masks, Barb Tornow said her next task is to find a pattern for a mask that didn't steam up the wearer's glasses, which will be important during the winter months.

Sarah Gitzen's nomination was similar to that of her husband, but she added a line which further described Tornow: "Barb is a wonderful person and deserved to be recognized for the amazing act of kindness she blessed so many with."

Great Western Bank said in a press release that it was awarding $70,000 to 140 winners across a nine-state footprint. Great Gifts of Gratitude is a one-time award program developed to recognize the selfless work and unwavering dedication of individuals in communities they serve in addressing the pandemic.

The public was asked to submit stories about members of their communities who were making an impact using an online nomination process. The gifts were then tailored to each individual. Tornow received $300 in Mad Money.

Individuals in other communities who were recognized were engaged in a variety of activities. Among them was a therapist offering free mental health care, an individual who opened her home to provide free childcare to neighbors during school closures, and a distiller who stopped production to make hand sanitizer.

As she received the award, Tornow both complimented her neighbors and talked about the importance of helping others. About the Gitzens, she said, "They are good neighbors. We are important to each other."

About helping others, she said at one point, "In this world, we need to share with one another." Later, she observed, "We all just touch each other's lives. That's how we're going through this."

As her drop-in guests departed, Tornow noted, "Everybody uses their gifts. That's all we have to do -- use our gifts."