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Rhonda Annette

June 15, 1950-March 12, 2009

Rhonda Jokela Annette, 58, of Park Rapids, died Thursday, March 12, 2009 at St. Joseph's Area Health Services in Park Rapids.

Rhonda Rhea Jokela was born the second child of Eddie and Lorraine Jokela on their third wedding anniversary, June 15, 1950. Her rural childhood days working on the family farm portrayed Rhonda's enthusiasm and love for animals and the outdoors. She began riding horses as a toddler and participated at area youth downhill ski camps, and was an accomplished seamstress. She was also a talented musician and majorette in the Park Rapids High School marching band. She was also a football and wrestling cheerleader. Rhonda graduated from Park Rapids High School in 1968 and recently enjoyed her 40-year class reunion.

Rhonda married John Annette of Ponsford; son David Jay was born the following year. They lived and worked in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Rhonda was employed by Northwest Federal Savings & Loan. She dedicated herself to her family, working hard at home and her full-time job until health problems ensued and persisted.

Rhonda was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at 25 years of age. She continued raising her son to the best of her ability, always conscious that her days were numbered to less than the average person. Rhonda played an integral part in organizing the first Park Rapids Rodeo in June 1978. She took charge and helped guide this endeavor into the early 1980s, until moving west for more downhill skiing, which she believed would provide the exercise she needed to maintain her health.

Rhonda enjoyed the mountain villages of Telluride, Colo., and Red Lodge, Mont. In Telluride, she enjoyed rocking babies at the ski resort's daycare to earn her ski pass. She adopted a "granola" lifestyle and explored alternative health foods, remedies and treatments. She was an excellent cook. During the 1980s in Red Lodge, Rhonda served on the Home of Champions Rodeo Committee, danced for Finnish and other days in the Festival of Nations, was a Winter Carnival Snow Queen, helped more severely disabled individuals gain independent living skills, and was a strong activist for handicapped accessibility to Red Lodge's sidewalks and stores.

During her years in Red Lodge, Rhonda went from walking with a limp to using a cane, leg braces, a walker, and eventually a motorized scooter. She was enrolled in classes at Montana State University, Billings for two years, riding her scooter around campus. As her illness progressed, so did her skiing.

Rhonda was an excellent training subject for Eagle Mount, using the mono-ski with her "oh well" carefree attitude and desire to do all she could to improve the quality of life for disabled persons. She didn't mind being a "guinea pig," as she said, for various experimental therapies and potential cures for MS. She was hopeful about a cure being discovered in her lifetime, and was willing to do all she could to help the cause. Her courage, tenacity and Finnish "sisu" (toughness) made her "best able to endure the hardships of this disease out of all our children," said her mother, Lorraine. Rhonda's reply, "I just keep on keeping on."

By 1996, the disease had taken a heavy toll on Rhonda's health. She relocated to Minnesota to be closer to family assistance. The disease progressed even more, and weakened her to the point that she needed long-term nursing care. She lived at Trevilla of Robbinsdale, Minn., from 1997-2001 until moving to Heritage Living Center in Park Rapids, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Over time, she battled more frequent and more intense infections, which her weakened immune system could no longer fight with even the strongest of antibiotics.

Surviving Rhonda are her son, Jay Annette of St. Louis Park, Minn.; her parents, Eddie and Lorraine Jokela; brothers, Randy (Denese) Jokela and Jon Peter (Deb) Jokela; sisters Jolene (David) Jokela-Veo and Jody (Nick) Jokela-DeCarlo; as well as many nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and good friends, who will miss her very much. Rhonda was preceded in death by her older sister, Roxanne, in 1999.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, March 16 at the Jones-Pearson Funeral Home in Park Rapids. Memorial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, at St. Johns Lutheran Church in Park Rapids, with the Rev. James Neubauer officiating.

Honorary casketbearers will be Greg Bishop, Loni Magnuson, Brett Bishop, Quinn Bishop, Talia Bishop, Luke Jokela, Bridger Jokela, Drew Jokela, Mike DeCarlo, Colson DeCarlo, Logan Veo and Peyton Jokela. Interment will be in the Wolf Lake Cemetery.

The Jones-Pearson Funeral Home in Park Rapids is handling arrangements. In lieu of flowers, please make donations on behalf of Rhonda Annette to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, 200 12th Ave. S., Minneapolis MN 55415-1255.