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There are many tremendous people I’ve met in the NRHEG area since I started teaching here in 1996. This past week we lost one, a person who had more of an impact on me than she ever realized. I don’t think I even realized that until Carol Reese passed away following an inspiring battle with cancer.

Starting as a young buck fresh out of college in a small town like New Richland can be intimidating. Everyone knows who you are long before you know many of them. However, Carol and her husband Jeff befriended me early on. They made me feel comfortable and welcome, and I found quickly that every time I would see Carol, she’d be wearing that unbelievable smile that was her trademark.

I was fortunate to have their daughter Joy in class my second year and son Jacey shortly after that. (Dusty escaped me, lucky guy.) This only helped increase my confidence, as I always heard a kind, encouraging word from Carol, be it at parent-teacher conferences or Jacey’s baseball games. Her soft-spoken manner really was impactful; it helped a person really pay attention to what Carol had to say.

It was really great to work in Jeff’s baseball program as a coach for 13 years. Even better was seeing the tremendous relationship and understanding he and Carol had about baseball. Baseball is and always will be a passion for Jeff, and Carol understood that. Every wife would like to see more of her husband, but a coach’s wife is a particular kind of special. I know she used to joke that Jeff spent so much time there, she’d probably have to build him a place to stay at Legion Field – at least she’d always know where to find him!

She always knew what was going on in the baseball program. There were so many times I’d see her, and she’d know what was happening with my 7th grade team. Carol didn’t have to know that or pay any attention if Jeff talked about it, but that showed the deep compassion she had for everyone. Just knowing her appreciation for the job I was doing was amazing.

I miss the days when she’d bring her little dancers to perform at halftime of basketball games. She always came over to give me an update on who was performing, so I could introduce them. But she also took the time to ask, no, demand that I show her pictures of my kids. Everything was about others, not her. She told me at one point to announce the kids as the Dance Studio Dancers, after I had called them Carol’s Dance Studio Dancers. There’s always a part of me that feels like I disappointed her because Jayna was never into dance, even though it was such a great activity for so many kids.

As I was leaving her wake, I thought of something else: what a stupendous parent she was. I’ve joked with Joy for ages that she can call me Mark instead of Mr. Domeier. She’s plenty of years removed from my classroom, and we’re only about six years apart in age. Jacey is the same way, but they insist that they can’t do that. That’s a sign of respect that has been instilled in them. And it also dawned on me as I left the church: I don’t think Carol ever called me Mark either; it was always Mr. Domeier. I know she looked younger than me, but that respect carried on to her children, and she and Jeff had a lot to be proud of in their offspring.

I know Carol would be embarrassed by a column about her. However, there are simply so many superlatives about this amazing woman. From the time I found out she was diagnosed with this horrible illness until her death, I thought of her every day, as did so many other people. That, along with her incredible inner strength and the love she garnered from so many people, helped carry her along much longer than anyone might have suspected. Of course, when you have a shining star like Carol Reese, it’s never long enough.

Still, she’s left behind a legacy unlike any other. There have been so many people, young and old, who have and will continue to look to her as inspiration. May God provide her the right music to keep the dance going.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is via dolorosa, which means a distressing journey or experience, as in, “Carol’s via dolorosa was difficult for her but inspirational for others.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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