MONTEVIDEO – It was a morning in October 2017 when Luanne Fondell heard the hum of the printer in the next room and knew.

Her husband, Dan, had completed the final version of “My Little Book of Life”.

That night, they left their Dawson home in an ambulance en route to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where the next day they learned that Dan had run out of treatment options for the cancer he had been battling since. long time.

Once back home, he proclaimed, “’I need a plan and I need a project,’” Luanne said.

Little book of life lessons

This project – Dan’s little book of life – has become a family project. The Fondells turned the story Dan had written into a paperback booklet, with help from Andy Kahmann of A to Z Letterpress Printing in Montevideo.

Luanne and Dan, along with their children, set to work producing hundreds of copies of Dan Fondell’s Little Book of Life. The story Dan wrote was just over 125 words, just enough for a single piece of paper that would be hand-folded into a small eight-page pocket booklet.

Andy Kahmann, left, watches assistant Joyce Samples print on letterpress at his store, A to Z Printing, in downtown Montevideo on January 31, 2022.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Kahmann prints editions of The Little Book of Life on hand-fed antique letterpress in his shop in Montevideo.

This is an old fashioned letterpress print. Tiny pieces of lead must be placed together in reverse order to form the words which are then stamped on paper. Hand-engraved and die-cut blocks are needed by the press to print images on the pages.

Luanne and her adult children created the type together and even took turns for the press.

The short statements he wrote for his Little Book of Life represent the very spirit of Dan Fondell. This is what some might call an ethical will.

“People worry about finances and things,” Luanne Fondell said, “and don’t tell their kids what’s most important in life.”

Andy Kahmann examines a collection of “My Little Book of Life” booklets he printed on a letterpress at this shop, A to Z Printing in downtown Montevideo, January 31, 2022.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

The eldest son Nathan learned the art of making block prints because he wanted to provide images for the book. The images symbolize the life of his father. A picture of books is on the cover, and inside is a gold dredge from Dan’s three decades in Alaska, the barn that became his goldsmith shop, and the silver necklace Dan created for Luanne.

“She holds my heart,” he wrote in the book.

Dan and Luanne Fondell worked with Andy Kahmann and his shop, A to Z Letterpress in Montevideo, to produce hundreds of copies of Dan’s “Little Book of Life” after Dan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Dan Fondell died at age 64 on November 27, 2017.


Dan Fondell died at age 64 on November 27, 2017, 30 days after that last trip to Mayo, and just a day after folding the last of hundreds of books by hand.

Talk to the things that matter

Kahmann created the first of the Little Book of Life editions in 2016 for his friend, Gene Sando of Madison, after Sando was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Andy Kahmann produced his own “My Little Book of Life”, unaware that a month later he would be diagnosed with life-threatening cancer.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

The idea for a small typographic book came from Dawson-area artist Lucy Tokheim. She approached Kahmann to print the very first in 2010. It features her blue drawings of the old bridge in Milan. Its narrative is Robert Bly’s poem, “Driving to the Lake that Talks River”.

Kahmann took the idea to the next step, printing separate little life books for people willing to tell their stories. They are not meant to be a final statement or obituary-style narrative. Kahmann said the idea is to talk about those things that matter to you, the values ​​that you hold.

That’s why he designed his own “little book of life”, with the engraved image of his typography on the cover. The ink hadn’t been dry for over a month when he made his own trip to the Mayo Clinic. He was worried about a lump on his neck and sudden problems with vision in his left eye and strength in his left arm.

Book of life
“My Little Book of Life” booklets are printed on letterpress, which requires the type of lead, pictured here, to be assembled by hand. The words should be put together as a mirror image of how they will appear when printed on paper.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

High-risk diffuse large B-cell lymphoma was diagnosed. “The same thing Louie Anderson just died of,” Kahmann said. Anderson was a famous comedian with Minnesota roots.

Kahmann’s body scans showed white spots all over his body, lit up “like a Christmas tree”, he said.

He had noticed the lump on his neck on July 25, 2021. It took 175 days to hear his Mayo doctor tell him he found no signs of cancer, and was most likely cured, and definitely in remission. complete.

He underwent 125 days of chemotherapy infusions in Rochester to reach this point.

In the process, he developed a whole new twist on the little book of life. Every caregiver he met at the famed clinic started by asking for his name and date of birth. Kahmann responded in kind, asking them the same and typing the responses on a laptop.

The “My Little Book of Life” is printed on letterpress as a single sheet of paper, which is then cut and folded by hand to produce eight pages.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Now he has printed a booklet of the names of 188 people who have helped him on his healing journey. Every caregiver he met at Mayo followed the mandate Kahmann posted in hospital rooms during his stays: “Laugh before you go.”

The laughter came easily. Kahmann dotted his room with the humorous hand-printed sayings his Montevideo shop is known for, as well as a large amount of his printed “Bad Andy Cards.” The maps can’t be quoted in a family journal, but Kahmann can say that the doctors most preferred the map titled “Minnesota Nice.”

Minnesota Nice doesn’t begin to describe what Kahmann went through in Rochester. He asked each of his carers if they liked their job. Everyone told him they loved them. Kahmann said the way they cared for him proved it.

It got to the point where he told a doctor that “Mayo is like Disney World for the sick.”

He explained it this way to a doctor who scoffed at the portrayal: “I said ‘you don’t understand. It’s not like that in the real world. People don’t like their job, but they will work. It reflects how they treat customers.

Follow those who make a difference

Kahmann told those he met at Mayo that they should put something in place for all of their patients who would like to keep track of their travels and those who helped them, and make it possible to feel like a little booklet like The Little Book of Life.

Kahmann, 68, had very few health problems in his life, but visited the Mayo Clinic when he was young in sixth or seventh grade. His right arm had been almost completely severed. The Mayo doctors successfully reattached it, one of the first such procedures on a child at the time.

His records from that visit nearly 60 years ago were still in the system when he checked in last year. He showed her with a Bird Island address. It was there that he grew up and started printing for the local newspaper at the age of 15.

Since then his professional career, first at Western Printers in Montevideo and then at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, has been on modern offset presses.

Dan Fondell, left, visits printer Andy Kahmann at Kahmann’s downtown Montevideo boutique, A to Z Printing, in this 2017 photo. Dan and Luanne and their adult children all worked with Kahmann to print Dan Fondell’s Little Book of Life.


But he never lost his love for old-fashioned letterpress printing. In April 2000, he bought the small shop in Montevideo, which he equipped with typography. Now retired from a full-time job, he continues to work in his shop, often making work with local and regional artists.

There is now a list of 88 people who wish to publish their own Little Book of Life. Kahmann only asks for a small fee, but after an initial suggestion, tells everyone that he will charge an additional $1 for each account after the first.

Luanne Fondell said her children bought seats 12 and 13 for her and Dan. She thinks it was before there was even a hint of the cancer that would take Dan’s life.

She had distributed her late husband’s book to many people and still today hears amazing stories from people who tell her how moved they are by what he wrote.

Setting the type for a letterpress requires assembling the metal letters by hand, set in a mirror image of how they will appear when printed.


She especially appreciates how her late husband made every word count and produced a complete story of his being. He did this without saying he was dying of cancer or letting the disease define his life in any way, as his latest missive shows:

“History and design now shape

my art and inspire my work

My family surrounds me.

I have more projects than time.

Now Luanne thinks she should start writing down her thoughts for her book. “I was lucky that Dan authored his own book,” she said, but added, “It makes me feel like the bar is really high for my book.”

A-to-z printing assistant Joyce Samples operates typography on January 31, 2022 at the downtown shop where the “My Little Book of Life” booklets are produced.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune