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Last modified at 1:39 a.m. on Saturday, January 24, 1998 BY LENNY KOUPAL Special for the P&D Saying Goodbye To An Image Of Courage Death Of Yankton Teen Hits Hard To Those Who Came To Know Her During Her Fight With Cancer EDITOR'S NOTE: Tiffany Dutcher, age 14, died Thursday at her Yankton home of the cancer she battled almost half her life. But during the last few years, she became a source of inspiration for many people in the Yankton community with her courage and her resolve. Lenny Koupal, who was recently the city editor for the Press & Dakotan, knew Tiffany all her life. He did a story about her last September. He has written this account for the P&D: Many who knew Tiffany Dutcher now have an image of courage. It's the look of a young dancer. Her face of emerging teenhood hides years of pain behind spirit undaunted. Though her tiny body grew tired, her eyes kept the sparkle of hope. Tiffany's song of life was too short with dark undertones from the cancer that pursued and finally overtook her. Thursday, after sitting up to hug her mom goodbye, she died peacefully in her bed at her family's Yankton home. She was 14. I first recall Tiffany as the bright-eyed child with flowing blonde curls who bounded down the hallway at Mount Marty College where her mother, Jolene, and I worked. Shortly after that, Tiffany would carry few youthful memories that weren't affected by cancer. A word that terrified her as a child later became her reality when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eight. Her remaining years left the scars of radiation treatment. Chemotherapy stole her beautiful curls. The thrill of remission was later dashed by cancer greedy for another victim. As the battle continued, lonely summers were spent in hospital rooms far from home. Along with her parents, Jolene and Kevin, Tiffany's threadworn blanket and a tattered stuffed bunny were her constant companions. Over the years the mother-daughter bond became one of best friends. But teenhood brought new excitement to Tiffany's life. Jolene relinquished her "best friend" title to classmates who often gathered at the Dutcher home. It was some of those same friends that helped resuscitate Tiffany after her heart when into arrhythmia last fall. Many of those friends overfilled Tiffany's room in the intensive care unit at Sacred Heart Hospital. Their support helped get Tiffany back on her feet for the start of her freshman year. They helped brighten a flame of life Tiffany fought from being extinguished. And the fight was gallant. As she danced across her living room floor during our recent visit, Tiffany reminded me of an earlier memory as I watched her join the Yankton Drill Team during a halftime show at the Bucks football game. Her dancing involved her in the Yankton productions of the Nutcracker Suite and other recitals. It was that grace of a dancer that lived in her heart. Ironically, the cancer moved to Tiffany's heart where it took its final toll. Now her spirit must live in the hearts of the lives she touched. We all can learn from her demonstrated spirit of caring for others despite her own hardships and perils. Perhaps more of us can learn Tiffany's steps for dancing through life with youthful resilience and unrelenting hope. Some already have. I recently came upon an adult with cancer who looked upon Tiffany as his "hero." But hero nor martyr was what Tiffany wanted. She wanted to be a dancer. She wanted to be an average, everyday teenager. I recall Tiffany's thoughts on her cancer. She kept alive her belief that the cancer that first ravaged the right side of her youthful face was moving in a circle. It had now moved to her heart and next should move to the left side of her face. Once the circle was completed, her cancer would be gone. Her cancer had other plans. Maybe it's our task now to complete that circle so that she lives on in our minds and our actions. It's a legacy we can all benefit from. Thank you, Tiffany. Copyright 1998 The Press & Dakotan Feature Writing: Daily Newspaper
Weekly Newspaper Column One of my all-time favorite movies is “Stand By Me.” It’s a tale adapted from Stephen King’s book, “The Four Seasons,” about four boys setting out to find a dead body. The macabre premise is quintessential King, but the story goes to the heart of boyhood, circa 1960 – the era of my youth. A memorable scene had the boys sitting around a campfire discussing the important issues of innocence – “Who would win in a fight between Superman and Mighty Mouse?” (Superman, of course, because he’s a real man and Mighty Mouse is a cartoon)… “I like the show ‘Wagon Train,’ but they never seem to get anywhere, they just keep wagon training”… “If you could have only one food in the world, what would it be? That’s easy, PEZ, cherry PEZ, no doubt about it.” The movie concludes with the message, “I never had friends like the ones I had when I was 12 – Do we ever?” I’ve been distracted by that thought recently after a bit of serendipity came my way at the local Pizza Hut. After enjoying the lunch buffet, I signed a check for my bill. The guy behind the counter looked at the name on the check and asked: “Are you Lenny Koupal? I have your baseball glove. Would you like it back?” I’d finally found Mickey Mantle. Sometimes during my college years, I’d lost him – a victim of a house cleaning or a rummage sale, I had sadly presumed. But now Josh Eskins, an employee at Pizza Hut, recognized my name from the one my youthful hand penned on the glove years ago. He had kept Mickey safe and was giving him back to me. I picked him up Tuesday. He still slid perfectly on my hand even though it’s been 30 years since we shared active duty. I looked at his oiled palm and that still-legible signature of Mickey Mantle. I noticed the words “Lightweight Model” and recalled the many times my palm stung when the ball hit the glove dead center. Then I looked into its “Deep Well” pocket and it was full of memories. The first was for two men who had made a difference in my youth. Never knowing my own father who died in my infancy, I benefitted from the caring and compassion of my uncle, Mike Koupal. Uncle Mike, a handy carpenter, built a complete farm set for me, which captured much of my pre-school attention. When I was 7, he surprised me with my first bicycle, a red, 24-inch Coast King complete with stylish tank (within a week I wiped out on the gravel driveway and scuffed the seat to bare metal – I was bummed). Then one day he showed up with Mickey Mantle. At the time, Uncle Mike worked <ul><li>Rediscovering A Childhood By Finding ‘Mickey Mantle’ </li></ul>WRITER’S BLOCK My thoughts then shifted to Ed Honner, whose funeral I recently attended as an honorary pallbearer. To me, Ed was my adopted father. Instead of the cowhide of a baseball glove, saddle leather took over as Ed showed me life through the eyes of a cowboy gentleman. My greatest wish is that some of that rubbed off on me. But that wisdom was offered later in life. Looking at Mickey, took me back to those years between 9 and 12, I remember Tim and Larry Hoffman as my first best friends when I moved to Wagner. Their home down the alley sat next to a large open field owned by the railroad. It was the perfect size for sandlot baseball in the summer and football in the fall. I remember the great times we had there and the picture of Larry and me with an arm around each other’s neck. And I remembered how I cried when Larry was killed in a car accident his senior year of high school. And Tim, who is still the biggest Twins fan I know, to me will always be “Harmie” – in honor of his boyhood idol Harmon Killebrew. I remember Dave Andersh, who lived down the block. I recall switching between Mickey and his catcher’s pud as we played catch on his front sidewalk. I remember with gratitude how his mom would invite me in for lunch. I remember Mickey and me in Little League and I remember southpaw Charlie Abdouch fouling a line drive into the third base warm-up box where I was standing. I sort of remember catching the ball in my face and don’t remember being knocked back into the fence. I still carry remembrance of that with a nose that points southeast when the rest of me faces due east. I remember the campouts, the treehouse and the hikes down the railroad tracks. I remember the fights and the laughter. But most of all I remember friendships unequaled. It’s too bad we’ve drifted apart. Maturity and responsibility have a way of doing that to us. Maybe that’s why boys who become big boys love the World Series and the Super Bowl and the Final Four. It takes us back to a time when life was simple and friendships were true. It’s a great memory. Thanks Josh for bringing Mickey and my memories back to me. at Buche’s Grocery in Wagner and the Rawlings glove came as part of a store promotion. I remember seeing it the first time and thinking that Mickey Mantle had actually signed my glove. Lenny Koupal is City Editor for the Press & Dakotan. (Published October 22, 1997)
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