By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV

SHELL LAKE, Wis. (WCCO) — The back roads of Shell Lake in northwestern Wisconsin have long been a deer hunter’s best-kept secret. At the turn of the season, you’ll never fail to find 69-year-old Dale Parks in his second home, on a deer stand in the middle of his 100-acre family property.

“I am always looking at trees and different things as I go by,” said Parks.

Parks has been hunting for nearly six decades, capturing hundreds of deer in his lifetime, so imagine his astonishment when the biggest prize of his life found him.

“It had to land right in the wheel track, or I wouldn’t have ever seen it. It was just a note rolled up and I happened to see white and a little bit of ribbon,” he recalled.

Attached was a deflated pink balloon and after reading the words inside, there was no “camouflaging” the hunter’s emotion.

“It almost brought tears to your eyes as you went on through. It had just to float down through,” said Parks.

Somehow, in the thick expanse of Parks’ property, a letter postmarked for heaven landed at his feet. It was dated Aug. 28, 2010. The letter read:

“Hi Annie. It’s me, Mia!

I wish you were here to play with. Oh, and I’m sure your friends want to play with you too! You do not know what’s going on in earth, so I’m going into 3rd grade and I got the teacher that I wanted, her name is Mrs. Acker. I know Mrs. Acker because she was my sister’s 1st grade teacher at another school.

I forgot to add something, when I heard my Mom say Annie died I started crying, and I’m sorry that I didn’t go to your funeral or your grave. So I really hope you had a great 7 years of your life. And your family really misses you and I miss you too, and I hope everything in Heaven is good.

Bye. I love you!”

“It’s like a needle in a haystack,” said Parks. “What happened to this little girl that she was dead at 7 years old?”

Parks brought the letter to his deer hunting group, Whitetails Unlimited, where one of the members just happens to be the editor of the town’s newspaper, the Spooner Advocate.

“Jaws were kind of down here and all these burly woodsmen had lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes. A very touching moment,” said Editor Bill Thornley. “If you don’t get choked up after reading that, there’s something wrong.”

Who was Mia? How did Annie, her beloved friend, die? Thornley researched area schools, but found no Mia. Local obituaries showed no trace of Annie.

That’s when he decided to print Mia’s letter and the farewell became the front page of the Spooner Advocate. The headline read: “Her name was Annie, and she was loved.”

Thornley said he was flooded with e-mails and calls.

“It was kind of a hard story to write. If you have kids you want to go and hug them after you read something like this. Everybody wanted to know. It had the same effect on people when we printed the letter. Never had so many positive reactions to it,” said Parks.

The community mourned and nearly six weeks passed until finally, Thornley received an e-mail from Annie’s grandmother, Renee Bahneman.

“Her grandma sent pictures and there was just this beautiful little girl. You thought, ‘What did she do to deserve this?'” asked Parks.

The e-mail read:

“I am Annie Bahneman’s grandmother. Annie died Aug. 21, 2010 and was buried on Aug. 27th. Mia was a friend of Annie’s from our lake cabin at Lake Koronis, in Paynesville, MN. I think Mia wrote this letter and let if fly from Edina, Minn. on Aug. 28th! Annie died very suddenly from Primary Amoebic Meningoenchephalitis. Primary Amoebic Meningoenchephalitis is an extremely rare brain infection.

Annie Bahneman was a sweet strawberry blonde from Stillwater. Her family says the illness took her life four days after her first symptoms. She died with a pink sunset outside her hospital window.”

Her parents, Bridget and Chad Bahneman, declined an interview, saying the grief is just too difficult for them right now, but said they are touched by Mia’s letter.

They explained the rare illness on their public Caring Bridge page.

“Since Annie’s death, we have learned that she experienced an extremely rare form of meningitis called amoebic meningitis. She had the 1st known case of amoebic meningitis in Minnesota. Annie loved to swim and the beautifully warm summer we have experienced in Minnesota this year lended to many swimming opportunities. As is typical with adventurous 7 year olds, she was constantly trying to master new skills. One of these skills was learning how to do handstands in the water. She would come up grinning, laughing, and asking about the quality of her work. The suspicion is that during one of these playful moments that she got exposed to amoeba in the water.

We said goodbye to Annie with a beautiful celebration of her life on Friday, August 27th. The visitation, funeral, and luncheon were held at the Church of St. Michael in Stillwater. We then were joined by family and friends in a walking parade from Saint Michael’s to Fairview Cemetery in Stillwater. At the end we released balloons in honor of Annie.”

But Mia Schultz, a third grader from Edina, couldn’t be there that day.

“I didn’t go to her funeral, so I felt really bad inside,” said Mia.

Mia remembers the first day she met Annie. It was outside their family lake cabin, and they were inseparable from the start. She also remembers the last day she saw her best friend, not long before her death.

“The last day I saw her was on her birthday,” said Mia. “I wish she was still alive now.”

So the day after the funeral, Mia asked her parents if she could say her own goodbye. She picked up her pencil, certain that in her careful print, their summer friendship would never fade.

“It took me about a half an hour, because I put all my love in it,” explained Mia. “When I had a hard time spelling the words, I would just ask my mom, ‘How do you spell grave? How do you spell funeral?'”

They were words Mia never had to spell before. She asked her parents to help attach her letter to a pink balloon, her own balloon for Annie.

“Everything she does, she does with big heart and big spirit,” said Mia’s mother, Micheline Schultz. “All heart and all soul, she feels really big and really deep. It’s like she had all her love in that balloon. This is really about a love story.”

And so from their front yard in Edina, the Schultz family said a prayer and let go. Mia watched as the pink balloon sailed over the tops of trees.

“It went all the way up there, and it took it like five minutes, and then it was gone,” recalled Mia.

Out of the hundreds of balloons that were released in memory of Annie that weekend, Mia said she wasn’t so surprised that her balloon rose above the rest.

“I want her to know it was fun having her, that I loved her. I thought since God was hearing it and saw it, I thought it was going to last,” said Mia.

Her mother credits much of the mystery to the man the letter eventually found.

“Things like this happen all the time, but they remind us that there is that awe and wonder, and are we paying attention? Dale Parks was that day,” said Micheline Schultz.

Parks has his own theory.

“Something higher up that determines this. You couldn’t direct it this way. Awful heartwarming to find out where it come from,” said Parks.

Thornley said in the 35 years he’s written for the town paper, Annie’s story is the most emotional and memorable of them all.

He said no one in their Wisconsin towns knew Annie, but now, they wish they had.

“It grabs your heart. This little girl sent a message to her friend and the wind blew it to somebody who could find it and tell her story,” said Thornley.

In fact, wind carried Mia’s wish exactly 115 miles from her yard in Edina to the hidden, wooded trail in Shell Lake.

The innocent words reminded an entire community about the capacity of love, the magic of young friendship, but above all, what can be possible when you set your sights on the sky.

Annie had the first known case of Amoebic Meningitis in Minnesota. When WCCO-TV told her family this story would be aired again two weeks after its original air date, they sent this statement to share:

“We’ve also been overwhelmed by the general response to the story. Annie was an incredibly gentle, kind, funny, sensitive, yet spirited child. We hope Annie will continue to inspire people as much now as she did during her lifetime.”

WCCO-TV’s Lindsey Seavert Reports

Comments (22)
  1. tiredandretired says:

    What a touching story! It is a wonderful reminder that we need to love and appreciate each other at every opportunity. God Bless Mia for sharing her feelings with the rest of us.

  2. MegsMom says:

    Yet another Snow Day with my stir crazy kiddos had me dreading tomorrow. What a dose of perspective I deserved!!! This certainly provided it. I am sure those parents and friends of Annie would trade anything for one snow day with her. One any day with her. What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing it. And kudos to Mia’s parents for guiding her so beautifully through such a tough life lesson. In a time when I want to curse the people that cannot even shovel their cars out of the snow so plows can get through, I am humbly reminded of the heart of humanity.

  3. justin says:

    Everyone and I do mean everyone including myself need to step back and realize what’s truly important in life. Thank you Mia for opening my eyes again

  4. Mandy Phillips says:

    What an amazing story and the perfect time of the year to remind us to hold our children and family close!! Thank you for this heart warming, tearful story…. My thoughts and prayers go out to these families…and also to Mr. Parks and Mr. Thornley for finding and passing on this beautiful message of love. Rest in peace precious Annie and carry your dear friend forever in your heart little Mia!!

  5. Doreathea says:

    As a 14 year veteran of single motherhood, I am once again reminded of what is important. Thank you, Miss Mia for that reminder, thank you to Mia’s parents for raising a loving daughter and thank you to Miss Annie’s parents for having a wonderful little girl who inadvertantly taught the people of Minnesota and Wisconsin what real love is. And thanks be to God, for walking with Annie’s family in their time of sorrow. My prayers go out to you.

  6. Amber says:

    What a beautiful and touching story. I reminded of whats truly important in life. Your time with friends and family. May God and Jesus bless and walk with Annie, Mia and their families forever.

  7. Brendon Nash says:

    Wow, What a way to wake up in the morning dreading another snowbound commute..Thank you so much for such a touching story

  8. Lisa Kramer says:

    awesome story

  9. Jan M says:

    I heard the saying somewhere that goes something like this, “if all could look through the eyes (and hearts) of a child so much would be better. Oh, how that saying rings true with this wonderful little girl showing her love for her lost friend. If the whold world could only do the same. Wonderful, heartwarming story!

  10. red says:

    This story defnitely put a lump in my throat when I read it at the office this morning. Thank you for a beautiful touching story and bless everyone involved.

  11. Laura Barnes says:

    What a touching story. My grandson lost his father when he was Just 6 years old. On his Fathers birthday he wanted to send him a birthday cake. He also wrote a note and sent up a cupcake from his back yard in North Pole Alaska. It took quite a few balloons. It went up and swirled around the back yard and then lifted out of sight. what a touching way to honor his Dad.

  12. Julie Siegel says:


  13. Todd says:

    Get a life MarkHT. I am a old bitter man but this touches me. God bless you Mia.

  14. red says:

    MarkHT yet you had to ruin such a wonderful story

  15. Amanda L. says:

    OK..I am going to try one more time to post this comment…my website keeps refreshing and I lose everything I type!

    This was a very beautiful story, and so close to home (and heart for that matter). I live in Wisconsin, but remember reading about primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, the infection Annie had. Wasn’t there another Minnesota child that died around the same time, that was suspected to have had the same infection?

  16. jackie says:

    :l really?…children should be taught that there are greater things than just the facts!

  17. MQ says:

    So Beautiful, yet so young to die. So many tragedies happen to teens and children and so many go unnoticed. Only a few find there way to the spotlight. This one did and touched many people’s lives so deeply. Annie may be gone, but Mia is holding their friendship together with never ending love and friendship, a letter, and a pink balloon.

  18. carol says:

    This was a touching story. Kudo to the Spooner, WI reporter and the staff at WCCO for a job well done. Thanks to the family of Anna for sharing home video that made the little girl real and re-enforced the message to love your kids every day!

  19. Jen Boyd says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. It touched and warmed my heart. I miss Annie terrilbly and so do my children. Love, Aunt Jenny, Hannah, Nate and Zach.

  20. Pate says:

    Unbelievable story about friendship.Bless Mia and Annie1

  21. David J. Carter says:

    I first heard of this story while attending a class with Lindsey Seavert as the instructor. The class was on Story Telling and was held at the UofM on Saturday, January 28, 2012. What an outstanding job of storytelling this is. I again thank Lindsey and her staff for sharing this great, emotional story.

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