Victim in Waukesha parade remembered as a caring friend and a ‘force to be reckoned with’

Virginia 'Ginny' Sorenson, 79, was one of 6 people killed in the parade

Colorful Christmas lights can be seen on Main Street in Waukesha under a blue sky.
Main Street reopens after the Christmas parade tragedy Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Waukesha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Sandra Mason’s mom had trouble understanding that her friend had died.

Mason’s mother, Rachel Spann, has dementia. When Mason learned that her mom’s good friend, Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, was one of those killed in the Waukesha Christmas parade, Mason and Spann’s pastor went to her assisted living facility to break the news.

“It didn’t quite sink in at first,” Mason said. “She said, ‘Oh, Ginny. I’ve got to call her.’”

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After the pastor left, Mason stayed and sat with her mom while she processed the news, and came to understand.

“She started crying and she started getting choked up,” Mason said. “She said, ‘Ginny was not supposed to go before me.’”

Sorenson, 79, was what one member once described as the “heart and soul” of the Dancing Grannies, a Milwaukee-based dance group that participated in parades across southeastern Wisconsin. She was one of five people who died Sunday after police say a driver intentionally barrelled his SUV through the parade. A sixth victim, an 8-year-old boy, died on Tuesday. More than 60 people were injured, some seriously.

A proliferation of online fundraisers, social media posts and media reports offers glimpses into the individuals and families affected by the crime. They include Jane Kulich, 52, a bank teller who a former coworker described to WPR as having “the biggest heart out there,” and 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, about whom a baseball coach told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “you couldn’t help but love him.” Two other members of the Dancing Grannies and a volunteer also died in the incident, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81.

For Mason, Sorenson was someone she’d grown up with, a close family friend she described as “a force to be reckoned with.”

“She was so energetic,” Mason said. “She was always on the go.”

One of Mason’s earliest memories was of Sorenson picking her up from nursery school when her mom couldn’t. The two families — Mason was the same age as Sorenson’s oldest son — later went on family vacations together. Sorenson worked with Spann at the Tudor Oaks assisted living center in Muskego, Sorenson as a nurse and Spann in the purchasing department. Sorenson drove Spann to Mason’s wedding in 2017.

“Ginny was always very in tune with what people needed,” Mason said. She used to bring her dog to Tudor Oaks for residents to pet, understanding how seniors benefited from those interactions long before research confirmed health benefits.

In recent years, Mason leaned on Sorenson for help ensuring that Spann got the care she needed, navigating the complexities of Medicare coverage.

Sorenson was “a caregiver through and through, whether caring for patients, family and especially in caring for her beloved furry friends,” her family wrote on a GoFundMe fundraising page. She and her husband, Dave, kept horses, as well as chickens and dogs. After their kids were grown, they bought the lot next to their house, where they built a barn.

Sorenson’s faith was also important to her, and her home was filled with figurines and art of angels. On the GoFundMe page, her family wrote that she “always reminded us that ‘angels are watching over you,’ and we are blessed to have her watching over us all now.”

When Mason was 5 or 6, the Sorensons came over for her birthday party in January. Her gift was two angel figurines.

“I still have them on my dresser to this day,” she said.