Mother.

Real estate agent.

Wife.

Volunteer.

Surrogate.

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Clean water advocate.

Maureen Bartelt has many titles and wears many hats, but she does so with ease and grace. The Oklee, Minnesota, native (who readily assures you it’s okay if you don’t know where the small town of a few hundred people 70 miles straight east of Grand Forks is) breezily mentions that in the past year, her family dealt with COVID as well as her role as a surrogate for a couple from China. In addition to all of that, she works full time for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, raises three kids, and continues to work toward providing clean water for African communities through a nonprofit entity called Wellspring.

And she accomplishes all of that with a huge smile on her face and maybe a well-timed sarcastic comment. Because that’s who she is and that’s what she does.

Family fun

Maureen and her husband Jess are parents to Jack, who just finished up sixth grade; Jemma, who finished fourth grade; and Lane, who will be six in September. They affectionately refer to the baby of the family as “Hurricane Lane” because “there is no more accurate way to describe that child than that,” Maureen laughed. Because her oldest two are only 19 months apart, before Lane came along her house used to be clean all the time. No longer. “He can destroy a space like no other,” she laughed again.

As a real estate agent, Maureen was deemed an essential employee so her husband, who had just started working for Microsoft weeks before the pandemic began in March 2020, was able to work from home with kids around during the last tumultuous year. Lane, who should have been in preschool this year, wasn’t able to go so he’s been getting some serious Dad time. Maureen is hopeful that Lane will be able to enjoy a normal school year for his kindergarten year. Her husband is excited to get back to work again too, especially considering he really only had a few weeks before being sent home for remote working. Her older kids were happy to get back to school in person and be back with their friends.

Everyone in the family are big Bison fans, though they opted not to attend the recent spring COVID season; Maureen said they’re hopeful to be able to safely return to the Fargodome this fall for some fun and football. Until then, the family is excited to enjoy the summer and all the fun that it offers, especially after a year of being at home so much more than usual.

 Maureen and Jess Bartelt’s family includes their oldest son, Jack, daughter, Jemma, and youngest son, Lane. Photo courtesy of My2Peas Photography
Maureen and Jess Bartelt’s family includes their oldest son, Jack, daughter, Jemma, and youngest son, Lane. Photo courtesy of My2Peas Photography

The gift of life

As if the last year wasn’t atypical enough for everyone, the Bartelt family had an experience most did not: Maureen was a surrogate for a couple from China.

Shortly after welcoming Lane to the family in 2015, Maureen had coffee with an acquaintance who had been a surrogate, and the woman’s experience made Maureen think maybe she should consider it. (Technically, Maureen was considering becoming a gestational carrier, because she would have no genetic tie to the child, who would be the full biological offspring of both parents.)

“I had easy pregnancies with all of my kids, so in the back of mind, I was thinking, ‘I could do that,’ ” she said. She completed a questionnaire and was matched with a couple by 2017; they wanted to do the embryo transfer quickly but Maureen was scheduled to be overseas that summer. Once she’d returned from her trip, Maureen was matched with another couple but was frustrated to learn her body wasn’t responding to the medicine protocol she was on during the preparatory stages. More crushing medical issues arose, and because the couple she’d been matched with only had one embryo with which to work, Maureen said they all decided it was best if the couple continued with a new surrogate.

“They were literally putting all of their eggs in my basket,” she explained. “It was upsetting, and I felt bad. I didn’t know if I should stay with the agency and continue (the surrogacy process).”

Her therapist encouraged Maureen not to give up and try one more time. Maureen was matched with a “wonderful, kind” couple who’d been trying to have a baby for 10 years. The embryo transfer took place in July 2019 and in April 2020, Maureen delivered a baby boy.

The only issue was COVID, and the fact that the birth parents weren’t able to travel because of flight restrictions. “It was stressful because they couldn’t get over here,” she said. “I was paying attention to China when COVID wasn’t even here yet because I was thinking, ‘Do I need to prepare to take care of this baby?’ That is obviously not the situation they want.”

In the end, other representatives were able to travel to Fargo to take the baby boy to Los Angeles just after he was born until he was more than 4 months old; that’s when he was finally able to go to China to be with his birth parents.

Her postpartum experience was pretty unusual compared to her previous experiences with her own babies. “People who are recovering from childbirth without a baby are doing so for heavier reasons, like the child died,” Maureen said. “That wasn’t the case for me. I didn’t have a newborn to take care of, but I also wasn’t missing out on anything because COVID shut everything down.”

Clean water advocate

One thing COVID didn’t shut down was the importance of clean water; in fact, access to basic necessities became an even more important issue because of the pandemic. For nearly 11 years, Maureen has volunteered with a local nonprofit organization called Wellspring for the World, which raises money to provide clean water in developing communities around the world. Before that, though, Maureen had a transformative experience as a Concordia student when she visited Cameroon, West Africa, to be changed forever.

“You can’t go to a place like that and not have it impact you,” she reflected. “It was a wonderful, life-changing experience.” Soon after she heard a Wellspring representative speak at church, so Maureen reached out to ask how she could help. “And the rest is kind of history,” she said.

Maureen holds the son of a woman who used to walk nearly a third of a mile to wash her family’s laundry. Access to clean water eliminated that issue and allows her nine children to get to school on time. Photo courtesy of Chris Huber / Wellspring for the World
Maureen holds the son of a woman who used to walk nearly a third of a mile to wash her family’s laundry. Access to clean water eliminated that issue and allows her nine children to get to school on time. Photo courtesy of Chris Huber / Wellspring for the World

Life-changing history, as a matter of fact. When Maureen joined the board, the organization had funded 25 wells. Soon after, Wellspring embarked on a campaign to hit an important milestone.

“Darold came to us and said, ‘We need to get to the 100th well by our 10th anniversary,” Maureen remembered. Wellspring had been founded in 2005 by Don and Dorothy Johnson of Don’t Car Wash when they were inspired to help provide clean water to people across the world, according to a Jan. 26, 2013 Forum article. The Johnsons were responsible for securing the critical partnership with World Vision, a humanitarian organization that also happens to be the largest non-governmental provider of water in the world.

Even though Wellspring had until 2015 to meet the goal, they made it before then; however, Rath lost his eight-year battle to cancer on Nov. 3, 2012, when the organization had only funded 70 wells. Undeterred, his fellow board members, including Maureen, set out to honor Rath and his ambitious goal with a campaign called “Darold’s Dream: 100 Wells,” which sought to raise more than $150,000 to fund the remaining 30 wells, according to the Forum article.


"“Clean water is not just about better health; it means kids going to school and women not having to walk five hours a day to get water.”

- Maureen Bartelt


“We hit the 100th well milestone 5 months into that campaign,” Maureen said proudly. “And we actually finished with funding for 155 wells.” Impressed by Wellspring’s work, the president of World Vision visited Fargo as the local nonprofit announced a new goal: 1,000 wells over the next 5 years.

Undaunted, Maureen and her fellow board members made meaningful connections with contributors to work tirelessly toward the new goal. They didn’t reach the milestone in 2019 like they should have, but they did hit the benchmark by October 2020. Reaching 1,000 wells meant providing 315,000 people with clean water for life in 40 countries. For an organization that has no staff and is 100% volunteer run, the exponential growth is a testament to the importance of its mission and how donors are able to connect with the simple, but vital, vision of providing clean water.

“We have loyal, generous donors . . . and we work with the best of the best,” Maureen said. “It’s incredible to get to see the work on a vision trip . . . clean water is not just about better health; it means kids going to school and women not having to walk five hours a day to get water.”

Wellspring staff members visited Catherine Chisimba, center, who assisted nurses at a local health clinic. With no water at the clinic, Catherine had to walk 1.28 miles to wash sheets and blankets in an unsanitary river. Maureen Bartelt, second from left, was one of the volunteers who learned how having improved access to clean water thanks to a well funded through Wellspring dramatically improved conditions at the clinic. Photo courtesy of Chris Huber / Wellspring for the World
Wellspring staff members visited Catherine Chisimba, center, who assisted nurses at a local health clinic. With no water at the clinic, Catherine had to walk 1.28 miles to wash sheets and blankets in an unsanitary river. Maureen Bartelt, second from left, was one of the volunteers who learned how having improved access to clean water thanks to a well funded through Wellspring dramatically improved conditions at the clinic. Photo courtesy of Chris Huber / Wellspring for the World

Maureen’s passion for clean water is evident the moment she begins talking about Wellspring, and she was able to go on a vision trip back in 2017 that’s why she couldn’t be a surrogate for the first couple she was matched with. She shared that while on that trip, she and another person spent some time in the local village and both bought bowls from a local vendor. Someone remarked to them that those purchases (which probably came to about $4 in the U.S.) were probably a big month for the seller. “As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor,” she said. “That neighbor can be somebody on the other side of the world. We are called to do that. We can’t ignore that problem. That’s what I’m trying to teach my children.”

Not only is Maureen trying to instill a servant leader mindset in her kids (they’re routinely out in the cold ringing bells for the Salvation Army, and they’ve helped raise funds through a charity running group in the Fargo Marathon in the past), but she’s also receiving recognition for her involvement with the organization.

In 2019, Maureen was named Woman of the Year by the YWCA in the Community and Volunteer Service category. She was honored by the accolade and humbled that a co-worker took the time to nominate her, but she admits being a little uncomfortable with any fanfare from the designation. “It was a huge honor to be amongst people like heart surgeons and an oncologist, but I was excited because it was another opportunity to talk about Wellspring,” she said.

Accolades aside, Maureen is focused on the work ahead of her for Wellspring, her family and her career. She’s quick to point out her many blessings but she wants to do more than just recognize how good her life is. She wants to share that goodness with others and help her kids do the same.

“The most important thing is setting the example for your kids,” Maureen said. “Everybody is busy, but you get to choose what you’re busy with.”