Vinnie Sorenson, 95

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

LaVinna "Vinnie" Isabell Sorenson, 95, a community leader known for her charitable works, died Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004, at the Elmore Medical Center Nursing Home.

Sorenson was perhaps best known as the founder of the Cheer Basket Project, which provides food to hundreds of needy people each Christmas.

Funeral services were held Feb. 17, at the Summers Funeral Homes, McMurtrey Chapel, in Mountain Home, with burial following at Mountain View Cemetery.

LaVinna was born July 16, 1908, the oldest child of Murdoth Hans and Isabell Chadwick Christopherson in Brigham City, Utah. The family moved to Twin Falls in 1912. Vinnie started school in Kimberly and moved to Hazelton at eight years old. She graduated from Eden High School in 1925 and went to Pocatello Tech for one year.

She married Robert Watson in 1927 and from that union three children were born, Bill, Jo Ann and Dick. The couple later divorced and in 1936, Vinnie married Wayne Sorenson in Elko, Nev.

They moved to Salt Lake City, Utah where Vinnie went to Link Business College. The family moved to Los Angeles, Calif., in 1941. It was wartime and both Vinnie and Wayne worked at Lockheed Aircraft. Vinnie also went to school to become a state caseworker. The family moved back to Idaho in 1950 and resided in Mountain Home since 1951.

Vinnie's heart was big and her door was always open. In 1953 her home became a refuge for unwed mothers. Forty-five girls and 17 years later, Sorenson organized a group of Mountain Home citizens to start Mountain Manor for unwed mothers. Vinnie was in charge for 15 years, helping the girls without state funding. "The one thing she was most pleased with is the 396 mothers she helped," said her family.

Wayne and Vinnie were blessed with their daughter Debbie in 1958.

The couple took more than 40 foster children into their home and raised ten other children as their own -- all without government assistance.

Noting that it made her happy not to waste time, Vinnie was actively helping others from the time she first arrived in Mountain Home.

She worked for the Welfare Department and in 1955, when her friend and co-worker, county health nurse Olea True, told her about a few families who were not going to get a Christmas dinner that year, the two set out to rectify the situation.

"Well, we put our heads together and decided to do something about it," said Sorenson, recalling the beginnings of the annual project. "Olea took one floor, and I took the other, and we both covered the basement where there were more workers, and we took up a collection.

"We bought all we could with the money we had collected and then went home and raided our own cupboards and freezers. What we couldn't supply, we asked merchants for help and were finally able to fill all five baskets. The grocery stores were very generous and helped us tremendously.

"Then we went to Sheriff Earl Winters and he helped us deliver the baskets so those families would have a Christmas dinner."

From those humble beginnings, the Cheer Basket project grew. They recruited others to help with the project and for the first ten years, the baskets were put together in Sorenson's family room.

In the late '50s or early '60s, True's job as the county health nurse was terminated in Elmore County and she moved on to the Boise office. By then the project had 'outgrown' its room and Sorenson was able to have a building donated to store the food collections and provide room to work.

As Sorenson reached her 80th birthday in 1988, she decided she just couldn't continue with the annual project. By that time the Cheer Baskets were feeding more than 200 families. Although she stepped down from heading the annual project, she continued to help with the program until 1994.

After Wayne died in 1982, Vinnie opened her doors to exchange students. Five young people from all over the world came to stay with her while attending Mountain Home schools.

Vinnie was in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) of Elmore County since 1982, helping to provide food and housing during emergencies. She also served as an American Red Cross volunteer in Mountain Home for 35 years and helped organize relief efforts for southeastern Idaho Teton flood victims. She also was appointed to the Elmore County Welfare Board by Gov. Samuelson and reappointed by Gov. Adrus.

She worked with Parents Anonymous (for parents who abuse children) and with Vista Head Start and community action programs.

"People don't always have to give money to help others. Sometimes just a loving arm and a word of encouragement is all that is needed," she said as she encouraged others to get involved.

In her 'spare time' Vinnie enjoyed sewing. She owned and operated the Gift Box gift shop for 14 years, making things for the shop as well as quilts and bedspreads for an interior decorator in Chicago. She was well known for her quilts and lap robes. The nursing home, veterans, her many friends and even strangers were recipients of her cuddly lap robes. "She was known for her listening ear and her big heart."

Vinnie was a member of the LDS Church, Business and Professional Women, and the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority.

She was named: First Lady of the Year by the Elmore County Council of Beta Sigma Phi; Mother of the Year 1975 by the Mothers Club of the Mountain Home High School drill team; Distinguished Citizen in the Idaho Statesman, June 1982; 1985 Volunteer of the Year by the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce; recipient of the Jefferson Award for the state of Idaho in 1992; and the Historical Society Woman of the Month in March 2002.

From the opening day in 1991, Vinnie worked with Summers Funeral Homes, McMurtrey Chapel as the personnel receptionist for the families.

Vinnie is survived by: her son, William Watson and his wife Norma, of Quincy, Wash.; daughter, Jo Ann Hanson and her husband Quentin, of Toquerville, Utah; son, Richard Watson and his wife Jan, of Tucson, Ariz.; daughter, Debbie Black and her husband Steve, of Mountain Home; four brothers, Deo Christopherson of Blythe, Calif., Orvil Christopherson of Pocatello, Gale Christopherson, and Dale Christopherson, both of Payson, Utah; 16 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, Wayne, and two brothers, Wallace Christopherson and Jimmy Christopherson.

"Vinnie was truly an angel. Her life was the epitome of basic values and standards. Hard work, frugality, love, service and devotion were her trademarks," said her family.

"She had selfless devotion to her family and friends. To her friends she was known as a loving, caring and honest lady. To her children, her love was unconditional and forever. To her grandchildren, she always had a hug, a kiss and a cookie. Her warm smile, gentle spirit, positive attitude and thoughtful manner will be missed and remembered by all.

"She gave of herself all of her life and should be proud of her many contributions. She provided a wonderful atmosphere to enrich many lives and touched people in ways she would be proud of.

"Vinnie was a gracious hostess and a wonderful cook, attracting many extra feet under her table. She touched the lives and gave love to all who knew her, leaving this world a better place. She was a living sermon of all that represents good and right. Her example speaks her legacy.

"Vinnie was one in a million." There won't be another like her."