Tamara L. Carlson Durand energetically embraced faith, family, teaching, Ukrainian roots and dancing

Bill Glauber
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tamara L. Carlson Durand

This story was republished on Jan. 20, 2022 to make it free for all 

As information becomes available, the Journal Sentinel is working to memorialize each of the people who lost their lives in the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy.

Tamara L. Carlson Durand, 52, was a dynamo who embraced life's journey.

She was a teacher and chaplain, a mother and grandmother, and in one dramatic moment in 2009, a lifesaver who helped rescue a man from the Wisconsin River.

On Nov. 21, Durand, who loved to dance, claimed a new role as the youngest, newest member of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.

Tragically, Durand was among six people killed when a man in an SUV plowed through the Waukesha Christmas Parade.

"She just believed angels watched over us," said her father, David Carlson.

On Aug. 14, 2009, Durand became a real-life "guardian angel."

While serving as a resident chaplain at Aspirus Hospital in Wausau, Durand, then known by her married name of Frinak, went out for a early-morning run in the rain. As she crossed a bridge over the Wisconsin River she heard someone screaming.

She went down to the river bank and saw a man 20 feet into the river, according to an account she gave the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen.

She used her Red Cross training to help bring the man to the bank.

"I was laying on my stomach on the ledge trying to get him to come to me," she told the Daily Citizen. "When he came to a wall he couldn't climb it. He kept going under so I pulled him 50 feet along the retaining wall. It was a miracle I never fell in myself. I kept encouraging him, saying things like, 'Have faith,' and 'God will help you.' "

She couldn't pull the man from the water. But as he held on to a 4-inch rod, Durand went for help, called 911 and emergency services showed up.

"She barely told us about it," her father recalled.

More: The inside story of the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy.

More: What we know about all the victims.

More:More than $2 million raised so far for victims.

Born September 7, 1969, and raised in the Milwaukee area, Durand was proud of her Ukrainian roots on her mother's side. Her beloved grandparents Daria and Konstantyn Harasymiw helped raise her, along with her aunt Ola Zyszkiewicz.

And Durand's mother Oksana instilled in her a love of Ukrainian dance.

"Tammy always identified with her Ukrainian grandparents and very much identified as a Ukrainian," her father said.

A graduate of Mukwonago High School and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Durand spent 17 years in the Beaver Dam Unified School District. She worked as an elementary school teacher and was a cheerleading coach.

A convert to Catholicism, Durand's faith was very much part of her life and inspired her to become a chaplain, her father said. She was moved to help others following the deaths of her grandmother and an aunt, who died within 24 hours of each other.

She was a hospice chaplain at Zilber Family Hospice and also a volunteer chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital for several years.

Her father said she was constantly on the go, up early, taking a daily run rain or shine, attending Mass and, four days a week, helping care for her grandson, Eli Bohl.

"She called me every morning at 8 a.m., asked how everyone was doing," her father said. "She was the organizer of the family."

Recently, she had found a new passion by joining the Dancing Grannies, the troupe that has entertained people throughout the area for several decades.

"We don’t know how she became a Dancing Granny," her father said. "We just know she immediately loved them, she loved those ladies."

And even though she was the youngest member, Durand had an appreciation for the longtime performers.

"She would tell us, 'I’m the youngest one in the group and these women in their 70s and 80s are out-dancing me,' " her father said.

In addition to her parents and grandson, Durand is survived by her children Aryanna Bohl, Natalia Frinak, and Alexander Frinak, husband David Durand and brothers Michael and Matthew Carlson.

A visitation will be held Monday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Jerome Catholic Parish, 995 S. Silver Lake St., Oconomowoc, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial. A private burial will take place at St. Adalbert Cemetery. Memorials would be appreciated at either Women's Care Center, 1441 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, or Aurora Zilber Family Hospice, Wauwatosa.