Taylor.. Dale.. Smith.
They called out the name of our oldest grandson and in a matter of seconds he walked across the stage, received his high school diploma and turned his tassel over all as Linda and I sat in the crowd at the West Central gym sort of stunned wondering where in the world the time had gone.
Taylor is a great kid who is going to make us proud again, and worried too, when he leaves in July for the Marine Corps.
He and four of his classmates, including Kelsey Hoffman, wanted to have their reception together so their parents rented the American Legion Hall in Hartford.
As Linda and I were sitting at one of the tables visiting with my nephew and his family, I noticed a guy wearing a big black hat entering the building."That looks like Garth Brooks," I said.
(Who is that man in the black hat?)Seven years ago, the world couldn’t have looked much bleaker for Anita Hoffman of Hartford. Her husband, Dale, was sick and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
He was eventually diagnosed with Antiphospholipid Syndrome..a rare type of blood disorder that required treatment at the Mayo Clinic. The prognosis wasn’t good.
While still reeling from the possibility of losing Dale, the couple’s ten year old daughter, Kelsey, started complaining of headaches.
A trip to the doctor confirmed she had brain cancer and needed to begin treatments right away.
For several months, Anita and her other daughter, Robin, were making trips between hospitals in Rochester, Minnesota for Dale and Sioux Falls for Kelsey.
Amid this sea of despair came a single bright spot. Kelsey’s dream of meeting country music superstar, Garth Brooks, was going to come true through the Make a Wish foundation. So the whole family, including Dale, were flown to the New York Mets Spring training camp where Brooks was working out with the team.
It turned out to be..as they say..the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Brooks was so touched by little Kelsey’s smile and the whole family’s strength in facing their ordeal, he vowed to keep in touch.
He’s been true to his word.
When Dale Hoffman died, Garth Brooks dropped everything and, without any fanfare, quietly slipped into Hartford to attend the funeral and be with the family.
Kelsey has since been his invited guest to several events..including being Garth’s date for a country music award show in California.
Saturday, a limousine showed up at the Hoffman house to take Kelsey to her high school graduation. She burst into tears when out stepped her friend from Oklahoma wearing his trademark big cowboy hat.
Garth had come to be there for her special day.
(Kelsey Hoffman with her special graduation guest, Garth Brooks)At the graduation reception, people first couldn’t believe their eyes.
Could this actually be the same Garth Brooks, who has won every major award in country music, standing there smiling and greeting people?
The same Garth Brooks who, ten years ago, set an attendance record at the Sioux Falls Arena..selling out six performances in three days.
I finally got the nerve to go up and say howdy and ask him about his relationship with the Hoffman family. He just said, “I’ve never met three more powerful women in my life than Anita, Kelsey and Robin and I’ve found strength through them.”
People at the reception who initially rushed over to get an autograph and picture, need not have been in a hurry. Brooks hung around for two hours making sure to say hello and have a photo with the other four graduates, their families and guests.(Garth poses with Grandson Taylor and Taylor’s girlfriend Melissa)
Then as unobtrusively as he entered, he quietly exited to his waiting private jet to fly back home in time to make one of his own daughter’s ballgames.
It’s easy to see why Garth was so taken with Kelsey. She is a sweetheart who has been through more in her 17 years than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. Yet there’s a spirit about her which is both endearing and inspirational.
“Garth has sort of been like a second dad to Kelsey,” Anita Hoffman told me.
“Whenever she needs encouragement or advice, she’ll call him and he’ll often call her out of the blue just to see how she’s doing.”“Do you think that has helped Kelsey beat the cancer that now appears to be gone?” I asked.
Anita didn’t have an answer. She just smiled and brushed back a tear.