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Colin Harlander, 24-year-old with knack for helping others, dies from heart disease

9December 2021

Despite a long list of traits and habits that show just how kind and generous Colin Harlander was, those close to him say the first thing they remember about Colin are his eye rolls.

He was, after all, a 24-year-old with a keen sense of humor. He was also a gentle and giving soul who loved to cook for people, volunteer at the dice stand at Bowlus Fun Days and play Santa for a central Minnesota family.

He’s also credited with saving a life.

Colin worked as a service technician for Roto-Rooter in St. Cloud. One day in early April, Colin called his mother, Stacy Harlander, to complain about running late to an appointment.

“He was so upset he was running late,” said Stacy Hollander, of Isle, Minn.

But his timing couldn’t have been better.

At the St. Cloud home, a customer suffered a stroke in front of Colin.

“The customer just collapsed in front of him,” said Travis Harlander, Colin’s uncle, who worked with him. “Colin caught the customer and kept him from falling down the stairs.”

Colin graduated from Holdingford High School in 2016. He lived in Bowlus and had been working for Roto-Rooter for about five years.

“He loved working with his hands. He absolutely loved it and he was good at what he did,” Travis Harlander said. “There were a lot of customers that would call just to have him come out because they really enjoyed him.”

Harlander died in late November of complications from heart disease that doctors discovered two years ago after a bout of pneumonia landed him in the hospital.

“He didn’t let that slow him down,” Stacy Harlander, 46, said of the rare congenital disease.

The disease affected how his heart pumped blood, but Colin managed it with medications and quickly went back to work full time.

“He was up for a defibrillator,” Stacy said, “and there was talk he would be able to do a heart pump or be eligible for a heart transplant.”

But this fall, Colin got sick again and spent a month in the hospital. His blood sugar dropped and his body started shutting down. In his last week, he also suffered allergic reactions to the medication he was taking. He died the day after Thanksgiving.

“Tom was able to spend Thanksgiving with him at the hospital, and I was able to video chat,” Stacy Harlander said of Colin’s father, Tom Vander Heyden. “[Colin] might have known because he requested I do some Christmas shopping for his people.”

Colin also wanted to make sure someone would fill in for him as Santa Claus — something he had done each Christmas for almost half of his life. He was 12 when he first volunteered to act as Santa at the suggestion of a customer at Jordie’s Trailside Café in Bowlus who had a large family.

“He’d walk in with a bag full of presents for the kids. He enjoyed it,” Stacy said.

“That was just the way he was. If anybody needed a hand, he was right there to help you out,” Vander Heyde, 43, added.

Colin was also known for being a sober cab for his friends and others.

“Just ask any of his friends — he was the responsible one out of the group,” Vander Heyde said.

“He’d sit at the bar and drink his pop,” Stacy Harlander said. “It didn’t matter if it was just the local patrons from the bar. He’d give them a ride home at the end of the night.

“He didn’t like to be alone,” she added. “He loved being around people, his people: his friends, his family.”

Colin is survived by his parents and grandparents, Ralph and Carol Harlander and James Vander Heyden, all of Holdingford. Services are set for Saturday in Holdingford.

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