Posted: Monday, October 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm
By: Doug Lund
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It probably isn’t all that uncommon, but I was somewhat surprised to find little packets of Kleenex placed in the pews of Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa last Friday. They might have been just for those of us seated in the family section but before the service was over everyone in that overcrowded sanctuary would be searching for something to dry their eyes and blow their noses.

 dillonIt was at the annual Trudeau family Christmas get-together five years ago in Alcester when we all got our first glimpse of Dillon a 7 year old dynamo of a kid who was staying with Linda’s sister, Maria Hooyer and her husband, Paul on their Northwest Iowa farm. Dillon was pretty small for his age and a little nervous around so many strangers; understandable considering the traumatic, dysfunctional short life he’d had before finding sanctuary with Maria and Paul. Counseling and a variety of medications helped some.. but to have a real shot at normalcy, Dillon needed a solid loving family with plenty of patience.

“We’re thinking of adopting him,” Maria said after we finished our pot luck Christmas dinner. I remember my first thought  was why would you ever consider taking on that kind of responsibility at your age..after all, you already have a granddaughter and a son about to enter high school. In a few years you’d have the freedom to do all the things you’ve dreamed about.

I didn’t say anything, of course. None of us did because we’re all too familiar with Maria who is the most unselfish, caring and loving person anyone would ever want to meet and you’d be hard pressed to find a more gentle, hard working  better provider than Paul who would be an ideal father figure for this troubled kid.  So they began the long, tedious and frustratingly slow process of paperwork and court appearances until finally in August of 2008, Dillon officially became a permanent part of the Hooyer family.  It has been fascinating to watch him grow by leaps and bounds not only in stature but in his personality which has changed slowly but surely from fearful, apprehensive and rebellious to joyful and accepting. Oh, there were setbacks and frustrations but Maria and Paul managed to weather each storm with a balance of discipline and affection. For the first time in his young life, Dillon could trust people and dare to get comfortable in his surroundings at home, school and church. He grew to be passionate about music, sports, and especially helping with farm chores and fishing with his dad.

Last Tuesday, a missionary family had stopped by the farm for a visit. Their 5 year old son asked if he could have a ride on the ATV four-wheeler. Dillon was an expert on the machine and only too happy to accommodate. But he wasn’t expecting the little boy to get scared and grab hold of the handlebar where the throttle is located. Suddenly, the ATV raced toward a utility pole in the yard. Knowing there was going to be a collision; Dillon threw the boy off just before impact. It was a heroic gesture and also his last.

 Linda and I were sitting in a little New York City restaurant having a fine time enjoying dinner when Maria’s daughter, Heather, called. “What….What?” Linda said in disbelief at what she was hearing. “It’s Dillon,” she said after hanging up. “He’s dead.”

“How in the hell can God let this happen?” I thought. After all that Maria and Paul have gone through to provide a real home for Dillon who was finally happy and full of dreams. It’s not only unfair..it’s cruel. Loving god, indeed.

The service was going to be much too large for the small Catholic Church in Sioux Center so, in a demonstration of ecumenical unity, Bethel Christian Reformed generously offered use of its much larger church for the funeral mass.  I’m afraid my frustration with the almighty was only enhanced upon entering the narthex where a sea of flowers surrounded the open casket and several tables held so many photos and mementos of a life snatched away too young.

Oh, to have the faith of Maria and Paul who, while understandably devastated, greeted all who came..actually giving comfort to many of THEM with what can only be described as a divine dignity.

At the family service we learned that one day before the accident, Paul had given in and bought Dillon the cowboy boots he’d been asking for. He begged Maria to let him wear them to school on Monday and was thrilled when she said okay.

At the close of the funeral service Karri Faber performed a song that wasn’t on the bulletin. It was one of Dillon’s favorites by The Band Perry; “If I die young.”  The irony of the slightly modified lyrics turned all present into mush:

 If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother
She’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh and
Life ain’t always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her baby
The sharp knife of a short life oh Well,
I’ve had just enough time
So put on your best boys and I’ll wear my boots
what I never did is done
Send me away with the words of a love song.

 Rest in Peace young Dillon.


  1. Della says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful but tragic tribute to a brave little guy that was on this earth way too short of a time and his loving family.

  2. joanie says:

    Beautiful comments, Doug!!

  3. elaine says:

    Dillon was in my son’s class, so I knew him well. you are right. There wasn’t a dry eye in that church that day. Thanks for make such a beautiful tribute to such a sweet boy. He will surely be missed and will never be forgotten,

  4. L McKinney says:

    Pass the kleenex please

  5. Brenda says:

    Crying again

  6. James says:

    Dillon will always be a hero, in my eyes. Perhaps his purpose was to save this young 5-year old’s life, it’s just so incredibly tragic that it cost him his own. God bless you, Dillon.

  7. Shelle says:

    Thank you Doug; you have a majical way with words and what a tribute to Dillon, Maria and Paul…thank you so much! Peace be with you Dillon; please watch over us all.

  8. Cam Lind says:

    Doug, I would expect nothing but excellence from you, and your provided it well. So sorry for the loss, time will heal. But the memories and love will go on. Farewell young fellow…………………

  9. Tom Gunlicks says:


    Thank you so much for sharing that. I know it was hard for you to do, but as always, quality piece from a quality man.

    “I asked for a flower – he gave me a garden. I asked for a tree – he gave me a forest. I asked for a river – he gave me an ocean. I asked for a family – he gave him Maria and Paul.” Now Dillon will be his true father….thoughts & prayers are with all.

  10. Sweeps says:

    When a little one is taken from us much too soon, it’s human nature to rail at God about what His divine purpose is. Go ahead and rail at Him, He can handle it. My sincere condolences to Dillon’s immediate and extended families. It sounds like he enriched all your lives.

  11. Donna White says:

    Dillion started riding my school bus 4 years ago. We got to know each other really good. He would help me whenever I needed some thing done. He would be the first to help me. And I was very thankful. Thank you Dillion. You will be missed.

  12. Darnell says:

    I was a daycare provider for Dillon when he was an infant and then again for about a year right before Paul and Maria welcomed him into their family. He was an AWSOME little guy. As I said before , big heart….small package!! I missed him dearly when he left my daycare, but was excited for him as he was finally getting a chance to be part of a kind and loving family. I did not know the Hooyers but could tell they loved him dearly! I love you Dillon…..And thank you Paul & Maria for making him feel special and loved!!

  13. T says:

    Thank you for sharing, Doug. The last song as shown in the bulletin was sung by Karri Faber not Jackie Scott. She did a great job singing that kind of song in those cirumstances. It was a moving song for everyone.

  14. Doug Lund says:

    Thank you for the correct name. I changed it on the blog.

  15. KRIS says:

    I worked with Maria at MCT and when you said she is the most unselfish, caring and loving person. You hit that right on!! She was so much fun to talk to at work and always thought of others. That Trudeau family is a very strong family. I also had the pleasure to work with her brother Jeff. They are the kindest people I have eer met!! Tears all over again!

  16. Samantha says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this article! I had the opportunity to teach Dillon while student teaching during his 6th grade year. I was also his neighbor 2 houses west of Paul and Maria. I will never forget his smile, his kind spirit, and his passion for life. He would always come onto my family’s farm with Paul in the tractor and help with chores and anyone could see his love for helping out on the farm. My family and I will never forget him!

  17. LeAnn says:

    What a very sad story. God must have a plan for him….it’s just too bad we don’t know what it is. My deepest sympathy to all. Doug you made a wonderful tribute to him.

  18. T R N says:

    This is to Paul and Maria, Remember you will always have an angel in heaven. I too have one and I do not blame God for anything that has happened. He always has a plan. God be with you all

  19. Sheila says:

    I work with Heather and was devastated to hear of this tragedy in her family. What a wonderful tribute to her brother.
    May the lord hold you and your family in his loving hands. Thoughts and prayers.

  20. Denny says:

    Doug, Really sad when a little guy leaves us way to soon. You just feel so helpless. What can you say? What can you do? How does anyone really understand God’s plan? Just a terrible tragedy. Thoughts and prayers are with all of Dillons family.

  21. Janet says:

    Doug, thank you for sharing the very sad story about Dillon. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  22. michael koele says:

    Well I have to say its disappointing to read this aboutdillon dillon He was loved by many. You make sound like he had such a horrible life before the Hooyer family. Which is not true, most people have no clue what the real story is about dillon. I know the story very well for im the father that raised him for 9 years, from birth. Dillon was my son regardless what anyone says. The process I went threw to keep dillon, after I found out he wasn’t biologically mine, was very long and the hooyers are good people but they only went to the last hearing. I had dillon in counseling for 6 years because of his mother tramatizing him.This is a very sad story and he should be remembered for all the great things in his life which im sure someday the real story will be told. Without out all the lies and deception on what some people perceive things to be. So please get the whole story on someone before you just say his life was only perfect and getting better when dillon went to the hooyers. I was told that I could adopt dillon but the courts decided that there were two of the hooyers and one of me so they got to adopt him instead of me. I have lost dillon twice and I surely did not ever think that I would ever read something like this. My family and i sat in the first pue with the hooyers. We worked together still to give dillon what he needed.

  23. Brenda says:

    This story is not to throw guilt at anyone but to let people know about a wonderful boy named Dillon. My son worked with Dillon on the farm and Dillon talked to him about his troubled parts of his life while they were in the tractor. Dillon was living his life to the fullest which meant challenges and rewards, ups and downs, etc. I LOVE the story for it is what it is….a tribute to my cousin who died so young. How sad that everyone can’t see it that way.

  24. Anne says:

    Thank you Doug for writing this tribute to Dillon. It did such a wonderful job depicting the man that Dillon was becoming and the hero he is. Dillon blessed many people’s lives with his loving spirit. May that memory sustain us as we grieve his loss.

  25. Virginia says:

    Unfortunately I have sat through one too many of funeral for young people. My husbands niece died in car accident at 15 a couple months before we married. And then I watched my nefew fight hard and loose his battle with cancer 9 years ago at the age of 17. I only keep thinking the answer is “for I know the plans I have for you” heaven needs some beouty and smiles and laughter. So I guess I can share with him. God bless and keep you.

  26. Lexy says:

    God bless you! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. You are in my thoughts and prayers!!!

  27. Brian says:


    In your years at KELO you have reported many things…most good, some bad. All of us in KELOLAND watched. This is not only your best story on the kindness of people, but the best story spotlighting the turn-around of a kid. It is too bad that he’s not here now, I would have liked to shake his hand for a job well done. It must be true..like Billy Joel said..the good really do die young. My deepest sympathies to the family of this young man. Please pass that kleenex..

  28. Jill K. says:

    Dillon was a boy that captured people’s heart from the very beginning. He captured the Koele family from day one that he was brought into this world. He captured the Hooyer hearts later in life. Dillon was a little boy that was turning into a little man. When Dillon was just a baby he had to fight for his life. He was sick with RSV not just once but twice. At Dillon’s first Christmas he was sooo sick. He had no ambition all he wanted to do was sit on who he thought was his dad’s lap. Micheal just held him even through the night. He was so worried about him, just like mom and I were.
    Micheal was not only the father of Dillon but he also has two older sons, Christian and Justin. He was the main provider for all three of his children. Which means he worked late and hard everyday to provide for his children. Problems started to happen in his marriage so they divorced, which was only the beginning of the trauma Dillon went through, but it was not just Dillon that went through it, it was Christian and Justin as well.
    Unfortunately Micheal was unable to keep custody of his children, but do not think for one minute that stopped him from trying even when he found out Dillon was not his blood son. While living with there mother all three of them went through abuse, neglect to only name a couple. What those boys went through is absolutely awful NO child should have to experience it. One would think that when a family keeps pushing and pushing to help those children that DHS and officers of the court would jump in there quickly to get those children out of there.
    Micheal needed help with his children but he has it. Mom and I were there helping him every step of the way.
    Micheal and the other Koele’s had a tie to someone that we have had to deal with. Thankful for Dillon he would never have to go through that kind of pain again. Micheal had no choice there was only one of him and having three children that takes allot of love, and allot of patience. Micheal did not have a wife but he did have a mom and a sister that were there to help when Micheal could not be there. Hooyer’s won out though there was two of them and Dillon would have a women in his life that could and would be with Dillon most of the time. Thanks Maria you were great with Dillon. He loved you soo much.
    Dillon had two families that loved him very much. There was trying times and there was hard times but between these times were some really fun times. Dillon was part of these fun times. Dillon sure did love to play sports. Like the older boys Dillon also got involved in the soccer program out of Sioux Center. Man he loved it, I think he ran and played hard that hole hour without batting an eye. Next came football, football was his thing as well. He was so little that he would sneak through and catch the ball and run. He was so fast and quick that a person would loose him before they even realized he was gone.
    Now if anyone knows his older brother Christian they would know what one of his goals were. Christian is the oldest, Dillon was bound and determined that he was going to be able to tackle Christian someday. Knowing Dillon one way or another he would have accomplished this. If he thinks he can not do something he is going to figure it out, and he will get it done. With or without approval.
    Dillon not only loved riding four-wheeler but also loved going on the motorcycle. He was bummed out a couple times cause he did not have jeans and tennis shoes along. When he did though and the weather was alright look out Perry, he was taking Dillon for a ride. Dillon loved life and smiled when he could, he made sad situations happy and when a person was upset he would make a person smile and laugh.
    Dillon was always a character and so impatient. When he did something great or special he was proud of himself. In Dillon’s short life he has gone through allot. He touched many, many people and we ALL love him for he was Dillon Jon.
    Dillon is having the time of his life now, and he will be there waiting to greet all those that he touched in his days on earth. Dillon knows all the truths now, and sometime or someday everyone else will hear them to. We will cherish Dillon everyday and miss him always. He was one in a million. We love ya Dillon always have and always will. Till next time

  29. I read your article and I was glad you were able to meet my Grandson Dillon. It saddened me that you would report a very short part of Dillon’s life and it sounded as if you felt Dillon never had a solid loving family before the Hooyers received Dillon into their home. You are very wrong on that one. In order to understand the whole story you should have reported on all of it. Yes Dillon’s biological mother and biological father’s rights were removed from him at an early age. You see Michael Koele thought he was Dillon’s biological father until Dillon was 3 years old. Michael was married to Dillon’ mother at the time. When Dillon’s Mom & Dad Michael were divorced Michael won custody of all 3 of the boys. Michael began the long process of adoption after finding out that Dillon was not his biologically. We were all bonded to Dillon and he to us. It did not matter to us if Dillon was not our blood however the law did not see it that way and ruled for blood. Michael lost custody of Dillon at that time to his biological mother and father. You see Michael and Dillon were devastated at that time because the two of them were together a lot of the time. During this process Dillon went to live with his mother again and Department of Human Services some time later removed him from his mother’s home and returned him to Michael. The adoption process continued but by then a blood relative wanted to adopt him. This is where the Hooyer’s came in and again the law ruled he should be adopted by a blood relative. They had two people to care for him and he had suffered a lot. This not only meant he was removed from the man he had called Dad all these years but also his 2 brothers who loved him dearly and the rest of the Koele family who helped raise Dillon while Michael had custody of him. Can you image how this child must have felt being ripped from the family who always cared for him and protected him and whom we fought in court for 6 years? He was our child and we had lost him because the law states blood out weighs love. Please do not say this child for the first time in his young life could trust people because he lived in a very normal life at his Dad’s and he had all the love any child could have along with discipline and was being raised to be a fine young man. He trusted us whole heartily and loved being in his Dad Michaels’ family. What you reported would hurt Dillon immensely and it is not fair to him.There was a reason we continued to fight for him in costly court battles for 6 years. We loved Dillon dearly. Paul & Maria had to deal with another adjustment in Dillon’s life and that was being ripped from the Koele family whom Dillon loved. He may just have been adjusting to life with the Hooyers and was finally trusting them.

    I am grateful to Paul, Maria and Mitchell that they are a loving family and that they cared for our precious child. I am thankful that he continued his love for music,sports and his great love for animals.I know they thought they had Dillon’s best interest at heart and spent many hours with him. I want to thank them for allowing us to spend time with Dillon during these 3 years that he lived with them. Dillon was our pride and joy and every minute spent with him was wonderful. He would hug us so tight it would take our breath away and his love bubbled over for us. I wish Mr. Lund you could have portrayed him as the young man who was loving, almost always smiling and a twinkle in his eye because that is who he really was.

    “If I die young” was one of Dillon’s favorite songs and I am glad they chose that for the funeral. Dillon did carry on with the Hooyers the same traditions he had with us. He asked many deep questions to his Sunday School teachers early in his life and always wanted to know more. Dillon and I had many long talks about his love for Jesus from very early in his young life. He shared many things with his Grandma and we had long talks about how his adoption came to be. He understood how hard we fought for him and knew how much we loved him. He understood how his life had become so complicated and how it was important that he learn by it and grow to be somebody special because of the trials he had in his short life. The last time I was with Dillon shortly before he was killed we talked about because he now also had a new family he had more people to love and more that would love him. He told me he believed he had a lot of people that loved him. He would still say to me as he always did ever since he could talk “I love you more than infinity and I loved you first even before I was born”. I long to hear those words again.

    I have both biological and adopted children and they are all the same and I love them dearly regardless if they are blood. They are my children and grandchildren. I wished the law could have seen that loves overrides blood but it was out of our hands and not to be dear Dillon. Dillon, I know God cared for you as you did for him and one day GOD said “Today is the day I am taking you home to live with me”. I do not want to let you go Dillon because I loved you so much but I do know you are resting in the arms of Jesus now. You will always live on in my heart. I love you Dillon. Rest in Peace”.

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