In Celebration: a tribute

I’m often asked why I got into fundraising. I’ve heard it all, from “I couldn’t ask people for money” to “fundraisers are just glorified car salesman.” What people don’t understand is that there is so much more involved. We make connections, share stories, get to know one another and if the affinity for our mission is there, we make an ask, but it doesn’t stop there. We’ve built a relationship.

Fundraising is not just about the money. Yes, the dollars are important if we want to provide for the organizations we serve. Sure, we have goals to meet, but if we believe in the mission, see the impact and know we are making a difference, then pursuing those goals is easier, even more so knowing the next person we meet might become part of our life.

For me, it’s all about the people.  Since I began in this field in 2006, I’ve met some incredible humans. They’ve shared their personal histories, their life stories and many have become friends. I no longer work at WSU where my fundraising journey began, but I still exchange Christmas cards, have lunch, email and catch up when we can with some of the most genuine people. They’ve become a part of my life mosaic and for that I am blessed. One such piece of that mosaic is Duane Smith.

My first interaction with Duane was over lunch at Bella Luna. He greeted me, a stranger, with a hug then proceeded to show me a framed photo of his beloved “May Queen,” his wife. He shared with me about their journey with Alzheimer’s and how he cared for her in their home except when he had an appointment, needed to run errands, or attended a Shocker game, at which time he had a nurse or family member stay with her. When he spoke of her, you could see his love and dedication, you could hear it in his voice.

And, he told me about his volunteerism. He volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, Meals on Wheels and the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Kansas where he was a guest speaker and helped other caregivers and in 2012, was honored when the Alzheimer’s Association created the Duane R. Smith Annual Caregiver of the Year Award.

He was inspiring, especially through the sharing of his motto, Continue to Celebrate! Duane told me he believed in celebrating life – all things, big and small. He told me we should not wait to just celebrate the big stuff and the milestones, or we might find ourselves holding a bag of confetti never to be tossed. He used to sign all his emails and cards in celebration of life and was tickled when I began to do the same.

After I left the WSU Foundation, we kept in touch although lunches were a bit harder to schedule. He moved his May Queen into an assisted living and soon moved himself into a retirement community. At every Shocker game (he was a season ticket holder for 50 years), he would come sit with me, my dad and husband and talk basketball, as well as catch up on dad’s golf game and ask about Brad’s business. But, a few seasons ago he had to move from his seat to the handicapped area and we would go to visit him at his seat, so he didn’t have to climb the stairs.

When I left WSU, a virus erased all my contacts in my cell phone and I was not able to call or email him, but he found me, sleuth that he was, at the Wichita Children’s Home. We had lunch on the day after his birthday and although he was no longer driving and was moving a bit slower, he was still sharp-witted, looking forward to the Shocker basketball season, and celebrating. We planned to have lunch again after the season started to compare notes.

Sadly, I discovered through an announcement by his daughter that Duane passed away on October 30 after an illness and hospital stay. I am heartbroken but take comfort in knowing he is with his May Queen, once again. And while I am saddened, my spirit also soars in having the honor of knowing Duane Smith. He inspired and more importantly, he celebrated. Duane always reminded me that people should be celebrated just as much or even more so than events or things. We don’t celebrate one another enough.

In his honor, I will continue to celebrate.  You cannot imagine the simple joy it can bring to sign an email or card with “Still celebrating,” “Continuing the celebration,” or “In celebration of you.” To celebrate means to praise, extol or eulogize, so I can think of no better way to pay tribute to Duane than to carry on his celebration, and I hope you will do the same.

Always in celebration,

Natalie, Your Mermaid of the Plains

For more about Duane, I’d like to share a story from the Wichita Business Journal when he was recognized as a Health Care Hero, as well as his obituary. Godspeed, Mr. Smith. Thank you for teaching me to celebrate all that life has to offer. Your champion spirit shall be greatly missed.





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