Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Remembering Benny

I have worked in small newspapers longer than anything else I have done. It's been 22 years since I first wrote a newspaper story for a weekly paper. That was while I was news director for a radio station.I remember the day my boss was all excited when he brought the newspaper to me and said, "Look at that! You have five stories on the front page! You own this!"
But I have never, never covered a story like the one that transpired this past week.
While in the process of taking fifth-grade class photos for our graduation section, I was at Forest Park Elementary School.
The school secretary said I should return because on Monday there would be a balloon launch to remember a student who passed away. So I returned this past Monday to cover the event.
We had just covered a balloon launch at a nursing home with a still camera so I decided to video record the balloon launch at Forest Park.
I got there early, talked to the secretary a little bit and learned who I should speak to about the balloon launch.
I interviewed the principal and other people and the balloons went up, up and away to the cheers of the students.
Someone pointed out the mother of the child who passed away and suggested I might want to interview her.
That is always a sensitive issue. I would rather err on the side of caution but sometimes parents in those situations want to talk to reporters.
So, as gingerly as I could, I approached her and introduced myself. I asked if she would like to say anything for the newspaper about the balloon launch.
She told me about her son and then said, "The Brazil Times did a story about him in 2006 when Make A Wish redecorated his room."
I thought back 10 years because I was at the newspaper then. The story slowly dawned on me.
"Did I do the interview?" I asked.
I didn't recognize the brave lady who stood before me, though she looked a little familiar.
"Yes," she said.
Ten years earlier, I interviewed Benny Durcholz's mom about Make A Wish and about her son, who was 4 years old at the time.
When I realized Benny was dying of MPS I was devastated.
She gave me a Make A Wish T-shirt and after the interview I started home, planning to write the news story the next day.
I was so upset, thinking about this family that I crashed my motor scooter while trying to get it off the loading dock at the rear of the newspaper.
I kept that T-shirt and thought about them from time to time over the years.
Benny was the little boy, now 14 years old, whose life we were celebrating with a balloon launch at Forest Park Elementary.
I have met many people over the years. Some of them had tragic events in their lives.
I remember the deputy sheriff who everyone liked. One time, I was given a two-way emergency band radio for my pickup truck. I wasn't allowed to talk on that frequency, of course. I covered an accident that was being worked by that deputy. When I got back to the radio station, I heard my name on the emergency band radio.
"Have a good day, Frank!" he said.
Soon after he died of cancer and not long after that his widow was hit and killed when she walked on a road late at night.
Those were tragic situations but nothing has moved me as much as covering Benny Durcholz's story in two reports, 10 years apart.