Sherry Engebretsen

Sherry Engebretsen
Sherry Engebretsen died in the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of the Engebretsen family

It was a little thing, but Sherry Engebretsen knew how to take care of details, especially when it came to her daughters.

So when her oldest's college dance team planned a bus trip to camp this month, she bought all the tickets ahead of time herself --- just to make it easier, she told friends.

On the eve of that bus trip, Engebretsen never made it to her Shoreview home for a family dinner. The I-35W bridge collapsed beneath her.

Now, friends say, it's her passion for doing the little things, like the bus tickets, that remain most vivid to those she left behind.

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Remembering Sherry
Ron Engebretsen embraces his daughters Anne and Jessica after making a brief statement near the wreckage of the I-35W bridge.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

"Whatever she did, she did with tremendous passion," said Tim Tracy, a friend and neighbor of Engebretsen. "With Sherry, everything was to its fullest."

At Thrivent Financial, where she directed the flow of a marketing division, Engebretsen was known for a spirited decisiveness that never became caustic. She was candid and gentle.

At her weekly check-in meetings, she held up handmade signs with messages of "Right On!" to encourage tight summaries, and "No Problem Solving" to silence rambling. Her one-liners and infectious laugh carried through the office, easing the atmosphere, colleagues say.

"I can still hear her laughing out there," said Roger Arnold, a Thrivent vice president who supervised Engebretsen.

But without a doubt, the true objects of her passion were her daughters, Anne, 20, and Jessica, 18, whom she and her husband Ron adopted from Colombia as babies, and raised in the house they'd built together with strong ties to the local Lutheran church.

Again, it was the little things that told everything.

When her daughters were on the Mounds View High School dance team, Engebretsen took charge of the dozens of uniforms every season, cleaning and mending them.

She often stayed up all night to host parties at her home after high school dances, offering plenty of food and safe oversight of the teens. At the high school's all-night party for graduating seniors, she dealt blackjack at the casino tables and then volunteered to stay on for cleanup until dawn.

No matter what her workload, colleagues said, she always carried her cell phone and, several times a day, would talk to her daughters. Often, it was just to touch base, check on a task, hear about their day, tell them she loved them.

It was no different the day she died, when she made a point to talk to both her husband and her daughter before leaving work.

"Her life was around those girls," Arnold says. "And they loved her deeply in return."