Happy Trails, Grandpa

My definition of the great American cowboy has never been like those I’ve seen on television, and bears no resemblance to a country western singer. No, the great American cowboy looks nothing like Festus and has nothing in common with Keith Urban. For me, the great American cowboy was my grandfather.

Early this morning, he entered into eternal​ life.

In his book, “Cowboy Philosophy in Rhyme,” Jack DeWerff pays tribute to my grandfather in a poem entitled, “Buster.”

Buster weren’t nothin’ but a cowboy,

    Just an old cow-poke.

He was good at breakin’ colts to ride

    And handy with a rope.

He was kind of an ornery rascal

    Back in his younger days.

Some folks liked down their noses at him

    Because of his cowboy ways.

He liked pretty girls and fast horses.

    A shot of bourbon now and then. 

He never did cheat nobody

    Treated everyone like a friend.

The neighbors would all get him to help ’em

    To doctor, and brand, and such. 

‘Cause he knowed a lot about cattle,

    And never did charge ’em much.

He’d scratch out a livin’ on an old sandhill farm

    Where he lived with his kids and his spouse. 

And I ‘spect he gave away more stuff than he had,

    ‘Cause his heart was a big as a house.

Fame and fortune both passed him by;

    He had no silver or gold.

And his prospects for ever havin’ much were slim.

    ‘Cause like me, he was gettin’ old.

But it never did seem to bother him much,

    Not havin’ what he couldn’t afford.

But I think maybe someday up yonder

    He’ll receive his deserved reward.

‘Cause I ‘spect when he gets to those Pearly Gates,

    St. Peter will say with a grin, 

“We can always use another good cowboy.

    Welcome, old friend, come on in.”

Though Parkinson’s disease and old age slowed gramps down a bit, his smile was still infectious and his heart was indeed still, “the size of a house.”

While I don’t wear a cowboy hat and have never ridden a horse, my grandfather and I had a lot in common. I was “kind of an ornery rascal” growing up. Goodness knows I enjoy the occasional shot of bourbon. Though I think what we shared most in common is our love of people and the desire to treat “everyone like a friend.”

“Someday up yonder,” has come.

Today, St. Peter greets him, “with a grin.”

I’m sure Gramps is grinning right back.

So as I bid him a fond farewell, I raise a glass and figuratively tip my hat to the great American cowboy, my grandfather.

Happy trails. I’ll miss you, Buster.

‘Til we meet again.

April 13th, 2015, 10:45 a.m.

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Everybody’s had one of those days they wish would have never happened. For me, it was April 13th, 2015. One year later, the pain of her death still stings. While part of me wishes I could just sleep through the anniversary of this sorrowful day, I wouldn’t trade a single moment I have to reflect on her life and the memories.

Leona “Lonie” Klein was born on September 16th, 1932 in Liebenthal, Kansas. The daughter of Stephen and Anna (Kreutzer) Herrman and the great-granddaughter of Jacob Herrman Sr. (one of the founding fathers of Liebenthal).

In 1961, she and my grandfather, Irvin, moved to Ellinwood, Kansas, where they ran the C.O. Mammels Grocery. After the store was sold in the mid 1980’s, grandma worked for 27 years in the day care business.

She loved her faith and her community. Grandma was a member of the Daughters of Isabella, the Altar Society, and she was the first female elected to St. Joseph’s Catholic School Board. She was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and shopped local.

Grandma was a child care provider for more than 100 children over her career. Lonie loved caring for children and did so up to age 82 when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung Cancer. It was a dark day that I’ll never forget.

Cancer was a disease she knew all too well. Her sister, Ruby, who lived with her and grandpa, passed from the disease on away January 15th, 1995. I remember the final days leading up to her passing. Grandma stayed up day and night by Ruby’s bedside. You could see the immense sadness in her eyes as she watched helplessly as her sister suffered. She hoped she would not witness the horrible affects of cancer again.

Then only about a year or so later, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. Recent memories of Ruby’s battle flooded her mind. She was once again filled with sadness as cancer came back to haunt their household.

In 1997, while most people were getting ready for the holiday season, grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer.

On December 10th, 1997, just a couple of days after her surgery, my Grandfather passed away after a battle with lung cancer.

Grandma was not going to let cancer defeat her in the same way it claimed her beloved husband. Only a few days after grandpa’s funeral, she was back to work, determined that she would not allow the disease to do any more harm. By the summer of 1998 grandma had indeed defeated cancer.

Life was good. She was a spunky, straight-forward, lover of life. Her favorite holiday was Christmas and dessert was her favorite food group. More than anything she loved her family and her “extended family” of daycare children.

Life changed in an instant. In December of 2014, Grandma went to the doctor for bronchitis. Some tests revealed that perhaps there was more to be concerned about than simply bronchitis. It didn’t seem possible. She was perfectly healthy. She spent most of the summer accompanying me on the campaign trail, at 81 years old, she was still working as a child care provider, she still went out to dinner every Saturday night with her friends.

I’ll not soon forget pacing the hallways of the University of Kansas Medical Center as we waited for the tests to be complete. When the nurse informed my mother and me that grandma’s lung had collapsed during the procedure we too collapsed in shock and sadness. But Lonie was a strong-willed, often times bullheaded Volga German. She pulled out of the procedure wanting nothing more than a chocolate malt and to return home so she could start cooking in preparation for Christmas.

Then it happened. A cloud, filled with grim memories of a holiday season filled with sadness, once again returned. On December 17th, 2014, Grandma was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer.

We went back for another round of tests on December 24th, Christmas Eve, the day before her favorite holiday. I remember the trip home. It will remain the best road trip I’ve ever taken. Grandma and I sang every possible Christmas carol we knew, enjoying desserts and laughs.

The diagnosis scared her. She shared with me that when nobody was around she prayed her rosary, cried, talked to God, talked to my late grandfather. Though she was shaken, she was determined to fight the disease once more. She had people who needed her.

Just before Holy Week, grandma was feeling down. Year after year, she always filled the coffee table with easter grass, eggs, and goodies, creating an enormous easter basket. She didn’t have the strength. So, while she was resting, I went to the store and returned with the supplies to recreate grandma’s signature easter table. When she woke up from her nap, she was thrilled. We sat there, eating goodies and singing, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” For a wrinkle in time, it felt like everything was going to be okay.

On April 2nd, 2015, I was having lunch with the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court when I received a text that grandma requested to be admitted to the hospital. I knew something was seriously wrong. Grandma hated hospitals.

When I arrived at the hospital, I found grandma watching Holy Thursday Mass on television. She cried in front of me. That never happened. I knew something was wrong. But it was too soon. After that, I didn’t sleep much for nearly two weeks.

Stage 3 Lung Cancer is a serious disease. For a woman in her 80’s she gave it one hell of a fight quite literally to her last breath.

I’ll never forget that moment. With her family surrounding her, praying the Litany of the Saints, grandma took her last breath.

At 10:45am on Monday, April 13th, 2015, cancer took the greatest person I’ve ever known, my grandmother.

We completed the prayer. Then we all just stood there in silence. The moment none of us were ready for had arrived. Our matriarch was gone.

Her birthday came and went with no cake, no ice cream, no joy.

Christmas came and went with no caroling, no celebration, no cheer.

By Easter, I found myself clinging to the hope of the Resurrection. Singing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” alone. Wishing she was here.

A year has passed. A day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t thought of her.

Somebody asked me, “If you could bring her back, would you?”

No.

While I would love more than anything to have my grandmother here again, by my side, I would never want to take her from the splendor of eternal life, where there is no pain, no sickness, no suffering.

When I was a child, she was, as one of her sweaters read, “World’s Greatest Grandma.” As an adult, she walked parade routes with me on the campaign trail, she attended every event I ever hosted, she was my biggest supporter, my most loyal friend.

Everybody’s had one of those days they wish would have never happened.

I refuse to let April 13th be one of those days. While it brought me unspeakable sorrow, it was the day my grandma entered into eternal joy. Today isn’t about me, it’s about her. For that reason, I give thanks for this day.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

I love you, Lonie.

Kansas House of Representatives declares April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

  TOPEKA, Kans. March 23, 2016 — For the fourth consecutive year, the Kansas House of Representatives formally declared the month of April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month.

The proclamation took place on the house floor on Wednesday, March 23rd. This year, the resolution was introduced by Representative Troy Waymaster (R-Russell), Representative J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), Representative Ramon Gonzalez (R-Perry), and Representative Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane).

“Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in our nation,” said Waymaster. “Sadly, not enough people are acquainted with the disease, the symptoms, and who it affects. My thoughts and prayers are with those who suffer. It’s my honor to introduce this resolution.”

The proclamation has special meaning to Rep. DeGraaf, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015.

“It’s a personal honor to be co-sponsoring this proclamation. Being a Parkinson’s patient, this effort is very important to me,” said DeGraaf. “While I cannot control the fact that I have the disease, I can control how I respond. A positive attitude on my part and the support of my wife, family, and friends are essential as I move forward.”

Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month was first proclaimed by the Kansas House in 2013 when it was sponsored by Representative Ronald Ryckman (R-Meade). In 2014, the resolution was once again sponsored by Ryckman and co-sponsored by Representative Marshall Christmann (R-Lyons). In 2015, the resolution was co-sponsored by Representative Fred Patton (R-Topeka) and Representative Gail Finney (D-Wichita).

“For four years, the House of Representatives has commemorated Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Each year we do this proclamation we are that much closer to a cure,” said Rep. Ramon Gonzalez. “Every time we have the opportunity to bring awareness to this disease is time well spent.”

During the ceremony, Gonzalez announced that he too suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

“My handwriting has gotten a lot worse, and I’m really starting to notice my tremor,” said Gonzalez.

Each year, the resolution has been coordinated by former Representative J. Basil Dannebohm (R-Ellinwood). In the summer of 2012, Dannebohm was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Since that time, he has been an advocate for Parkinson’s Disease research, treatment and awareness.

“I am incredibly grateful to Speaker Merrick, Representative Waymaster, Representative Claeys, Representative Gonzalez, Representative DeGraaf, and the Kansas House of Representatives for once again taking time to recognize Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month,” said Dannebohm. “The Kansas House joins with individuals and organizations from around the world who are committed to promoting awareness and working toward a cure.”

Dannebohm joined his former colleagues on the House floor for the ceremony. Others in attendance included: Michelle Haub, co-creator and Director of the Parkinson’s Program of Manhattan at Meadowlark Hills in Manhattan, KS; Parkinson’s patient, Matthew Schindler and his wife, Susan; Parkinson’s patient, Lisa Reser and her family; and Courtney Blankenship, a supporter of Parkinson’s disease awareness.

In 2005, an estimated 5,500 Kansans suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. By 2014, that number had increased to an estimated 14,000.

“Parkinson’s affects far too many Kansans. These folks aren’t a statistic, they’re our friends and neighbors and the attention they are bringing to this issue will someday lead to a cure,” said Representative J.R. Claeys.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects nearly one million people in the US. Although promising research is being conducted, there is currently no cure for or definitive cause of Parkinson’s disease.

Ellinwood native to be among Kansas representatives greeting Pope Francis

By David Myers, Editor

Southwest Kansas Catholic

Ellinwood native Basil Dannebohm has been selected to be among a small contingent of Kansas Catholics who will greet Pope Francis upon the steps of the capitol building in Washington, D.C.

“We won’t know until we get there whether or not we’ll get to greet the pope, face to face,” Dannebohm said. “We are told that the Holy Father specifically requested that he go to the west steps of capitol and greet members of faithful.”

The Holy Father will be in Washington, D.C. the first two days of his Sept. 22-27 trip. He will then travel to New York, and conclude his trip in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families.

Dannebohm and other representatives were chosen by a congressional delegation. Each are allowed to bring a small group of guests.

Accompanying Dannebohm will be Ron and Cathy Straub of Great Bend, Hays resident Donetta Robben, executive director of Divine Mercy Radio, Inc., and Dr. Mirta Martin, president of Fort Hays State University.

Dannebohm briefly served as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives before he resigned for health reasons. In 2012, Dannebohm was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s Disease. He continues to be a sought after public speaker, and offered a workshop at the 2014 Stewardship Conference in Dodge City.

“It will be a very quick trip, but we will get to experience a moment that so few get,” Dannebohm said. “He’s the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress. It’s the third time a pope has been invited, and the first time accepted. We’re humbly witnessing history. It will be interesting to hear what he says.”

As former representative of District 113, Dannebohm has made several trips to the nation’s capital; “I never thought I’d say this, but this is my pilgrimage to Washington. To say ‘pilgrimage’ and ‘Washington’ in the same sentence … it’s crazy.

“Taking a journey to see the Holy Father is the greatest birthday present anyone could ask for,” said Dannebohm, who celebrated a birthday Sept. 9. “We are so lucky to blessed with our popes. John Paul II was the adopted patron of Parkinson’s. Benedict brought such profound theology. And now Francis, who has this unspeakable love and clarity that shines forth in his eyes. For me to be able to see those eyes, not on camera, but face to face, it will bring one to their knees in prayer.

“He’s shown that the Church is indeed a church of love and mercy and a place of repentance.”

It’s all comes down to respect 

“This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower
Lately I hear a lot of people talking about how our society seems to be growing increasingly more hateful. There are those who even go so far as to believe this increase in hatred is ultimately a sign that we are nearing the end of the world.
I disagree. 

I’m inclined to believe that the increase of hate in society is the direct result of our increasing non-personal relationships manifested through social media. How we treat each other on social media has a direct affect on how we treat each other in “the real world.”

I remember when social media was about connecting with friends, not tearing them down. I remember when people posted photos of joyful life moments, not memes degrading others. I remember when your religion and political preferences didn’t matter, the most heated question on Facebook was, “Pepsi or Coca-Cola?”

Social media provides both an outlet and a safety barrier. We are more comfortable to offer opinions, especially hateful ones, because there isn’t always a perception of “in-person” accountability. It’s become far too easy to tear a person down. Eventually, online hate result in an increase in suicide, depression, and violent crimes.

To solve the problems of our society, some say we need increased gun control while others say increased mental health care is the answer. Both are merely topical treatments that relieve the symptoms. The cause of our problems, the disease that is destroying society is our lack of love and respect for one another. 

How we treat each other in the virtual world directly influences how we treat each other in the real world. Like everything else, it’s not the medium that’s the problem, it’s how you choose to use it. Will your Facebook profile be an instrument of love, peace, and understanding or a weapon of hatred, insecurity, and discontent?

The world isn’t coming to an end. These dark days are the result of our own behavior. If we don’t learn to love and respect one another, our time on earth will be a long, miserable experience.

Relay for Life – celebrating heroes and honoring memories

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is the world’s largest and most impactful fundraising event to end cancer. It unites communities across the globe to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action to finish the fight once and for all. On Friday evening, the Barton County Relay for Life event will take place in the Great Bend City Auditorium in Great Bend, Kansas. 20 teams and 229 participants have raised $68,758.80.

In the summer of 1998, I experienced my first Barton County Relay for Life, walking alongside my best friend and hero, my grandmother.

She had seen enough of cancer by that summer. Her sister, Ruby, who lived with her and grandpa, passed from cancer on away January 15th, 1995. I remember the final days leading up to her passing. Grandma stayed up day and night by Ruby’s bedside. You could see the immense sadness in her eyes as she watched helplessly as her sister suffered. She hoped she would not witness the horrible affects of cancer again.

Then only about a year or so later, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. Recent memories of Ruby’s battle flooded her mind. She was once again filled with sadness as cancer came back to haunt their household.

In 1997, while most people were getting ready for the holiday season, grandma was facing yet again more haunting news. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

On December 10th, 1997, just a couple of days after her surgery, Grandpa passed away. The cloud of sadness that hung over the house when Ruby passed away grew sadder and darker when cancer claimed the life of her beloved husband, Irvin.

Grandma had her fill. Cancer was not going to defeat her in the same way it claimed those she loved. Only a few days after grandpa’s funeral, grandma was back to work, determined that she would not allow the disease to do any more harm. She was a loving childcare provider. However, cancer tried her patience and was about to learn a lesson that all of her daycare children knew, “no means no.”

By that summer, grandma had indeed defeated cancer. Her “no” led to that victorious moment in June at the Relay for Life when she could walk alongside others taking the first lap of the event, the survivors lap. There were well over a hundred of them, wearing bright yellow shirts. Men, women, and children. All races, all creeds. Their diversity proved cancer did not discrimate. Their survival proved that it didn’t always win.

It was a proud moment for grandma. She walked in memory of Irvin, Ruby, and all those she loved.

History has a way of repeating itself.

In December of 2014, Grandma went to the doctor for bronchitis. Some tests revealed that perhaps there was more to be concerned about than simply bronchitis. It didn’t seem possible. She was perfectly healthy. She spent most of the summer accompanying me on the campaign trail, at 81 years old, she was still working as a child care provider, she still went out to dinner every Saturday night with her friends.

That cloud of sadness, filled with grim memories, once again returned. On December 17th, 2014, Grandma was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer.

She was determined to fight again though, she was older now than when she fought her first battle. She gave it her very best.

At 10:45am on Monday, April 13th, 2015, cancer took my best friend and hero, my grandmother.

I miss her.

There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t shed a tear, wishing for just a little more time with her. As painful as it is to imagine, my hero won’t be with me at Relay for Life this year. She’s watching from above where she enjoys the ultimate victory in a place where cancer can do no more harm.

The Relay for Life is special. It celebrates heroes and honors memories.

For those whose lives have been impacted by cancer, the event organizers and volunteers are heroes. The cancer survivors walking that ceremonious victory lap are heroes. The recently diagnosed who still walk are heroes. The 20 teams and 229 participants are heroes.

To all of those heroes and those who walk in memory of my grandmother, thank you.

May it be blessed and create cherished memories, like it did for me, in the summer of 1998.

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Kansas House to Recognize Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

TOPEKA, Kans. April 1, 2015 — For the third consecutive year, the Kansas House of Representatives will formally declare the month of April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month.

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The proclamation will take place on the house floor on Thursday, April 2nd. This year, the resolution will be introduced by Representative Fred Patton (R-Topeka) and Representative Gail Finney  (D-Wichita).

For Patton, a freshman legislator, sponsoring the resolution has special meaning.

“My mother in law has Parkinson’s Disease so to be able to bring some recognition to this disease really hits close to home, said Patton.

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Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month was first proclaimed by the Kansas House in 2013 when it was sponsored by Representative Ronald Ryckman (R-Meade). In 2014, the resolution was once again sponsored by Ryckman and co-sponsored by Representative Marshall Christmann (R-Lyons).

Each year, the resolution has been coordinated by J. Basil Dannebohm. In the summer of 2012 Dannebohm was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Since that time, he has been an advocate for Parkinson’s Disease research, treatment and awareness. In 2015, he briefly served in the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 113th District. Dannebohm was the first legislator in state history to serve with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. He resigned due to health complications.

“Representative Dannebohm made the very difficult decision to retire from office, said Patton. “I can’t imagine being faced with such a painful choice. In the short time we served together, I was proud to call him both a colleague and a friend. This year, he so badly wanted to carry the resolution. For me to do so in his absence, at his request, is a privilege.”

Upon hearing the news that the proclamation made it on the calendar, Dannebohm expressed his gratitude.

“I am incredibly grateful to Speaker Merrick and the Kansas House of Representatives for once again taking time to recognize Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month,” said Dannebohm. “The Kansas House joins with individuals and organizations around the world committed to promoting awareness and working toward a cure. I am especially moved that my former colleagues Representative Patton and Representative Finney offered their support and were willing, without hesitation, to accept my request to sponsor this resolution.”

In 2005, an estimated 5,500 Kansans suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. By 2012 that number had increased to an estimated 9,000.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects nearly one million people in the US. Although promising research is being conducted, there is currently no cure for or definitive cause of Parkinson’s disease.

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