Barbara Ailport (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Barbara Ailport (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Each year, the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women solicits nominations for its Pax Christi award and selects a finalist from each deanery. This is the second of four articles featuring 2014 finalists, all of whom were recognized June 16-17 at the SDCCW convention in Cumberland.

Barbara Ailport’s story is one of overcoming adversity. From her childhood trials to the challenges of adulthood, the SDCCW Pax Christi finalist has learned the virtues of kindness, patience and fortitude.

Born in 1942, she was the fourth of 14 children. Her mother developed a brain tumor several years after Ailport’s birth, and the initial effects of her brain surgery – partial blindness, right-side paralysis and difficulty walking – would have a lasting impact on the family.

“I suppose my mother’s difficulties made me more able to sympathize with others and brought me closer to her,” Ailport said. “It made me appreciate family. I learned that when things get tough in your life, you keep going.”

That fortitude would come in handy after the family moved from the Twin Cities to a farm in Northern Minnesota. Ailport was 11 at the time; not only did they lack the conveniences of running water and electricity for the first two years, but she and her siblings were tormented by bullies at the local, one-room schoolhouse.

It took a broken leg – Ailport’s – and a long absence from school before she saw her family accepted by the other children.

“The bullying I experienced made me always try to be kind to others, so they wouldn’t have to go through what I did,” she said. “I encouraged my children to do the same.”

She also saw her injury as a sort of blessing in disguise:

“When I broke my leg, I realized how much we take for granted when we are perfectly healthy. I really appreciated it when I was able to walk again.

“During the time I was laid up, I got to spend quality time with my mother,” she continued. “Also, it was almost a miracle how it brought about the change in my classmates’ attitude toward me.”

Ailport married young; she and husband Bill dated for three years and married the fall after she graduated high school. They lost their first child, a girl, when Ailport was six months pregnant.

Over the years, six more children were born to the couple.

Now married 54 years, the Ailports have five grandchildren as well. They’ve faced their share of challenges, including financial troubles and the loss of their farm in 1986.

Thus compelled to enter the workforce, Ailport studied information systems management and got a job at a Lutheran Synod office. She retired in 2008.

All along, Ailport has been involved in her parish, St. Joseph, Shell Lake, and her community. She volunteered with 4-H, stayed active in the Headstart program and now organizes her county’s June dairy breakfast.

At St. Joseph, she has been a CCD teacher, choir member, CCW leader, sacristan, extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and more. She is her parish’s Respect Life coordinator and has attended two March for Life demonstrations in Washington, D.C.

She is deeply pro-life.

“I remember standing in my kitchen and hearing it announced on the radio that abortions were now legal,” Ailport said of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. “I knew that it was a terrible mistake at that time. Killing babies before birth goes against everything I believe in and that God teaches.”

Over the years, Ailport has given much time and talent to her church and her community; she finds helping children to be the most gratifying part of volunteering.

“Working with children is always satisfying. I get back more then I give,” she said. “I have learned and grown while doing these things. When we volunteer, we are helping others as Jesus asked us to do.”