Matt Dodge is like the cousin you’re always glad to see at family parties. He’s positive, friendly, excited to see you and generally just full of life.
Matt, an American Family Insurance agent in Mason City, Iowa, woke up at the end of the 2013 with a lump on his neck. The diagnosis came fast and the news wasn’t good: Matt has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s hard to even imagine the reaction a dad with two kids under the age of 10 has to that news. But Matt’s facing this challenge with the same humor and grace we’ve seen in him every day. His family has even started a Facebook group, Matt Dodge kicks cancer, to share updates about Matt on this journey, where people can wish him well, too.
For those of us who know Matt, news of his illness was a blow.
“Matt is a great agent and family man,” says his manager, Terry Bartels, who hired Matt as an agent right out of college. “He helps and supports everyone he runs across. You don’t hear him say a negative word, and even during this fight, he is still thinking of things he can do to help others right now.”
Matt’s part of a group of agents we at American Family call Agency Council. They meet a few times a year to share feedback from and give reaction to new ideas. It’s a tight group where new friendships have developed as agents and employees have had a chance to get to know each other.
Enter Cami Sagvold. Cami is an American Family agent in Moorhead, Minn., right next to Fargo. She’s gotten to know Matt through Agency Council, and when she heard in January that he had cancer, she wanted to do something to show support. This week, American Family's Agency Council members are meeting in Madison, and Cami rallied them to wear violet to show Matt they are thinking of him.
There’s violet everywhere. T-shirts. Sweaters. Cupcakes with violet frosting. Violet-sprayed hair (and scalps, for some of the follicly challenged). Former Agency Council members are wearing T-shirts back in their offices. And people are taking pictures and sharing them with Matt through social media.
Family is a big part of our focus. It’s times like these when you really appreciate one of the things that means – putting that extra effort in to show a friend you care. Well done, Agency Council.
And good luck Matt – your American Family is pulling for you.
It is hard to put into words everything I saw and how I felt watching my son, Jaden Gault from Monona Grove High School (in Monona, Wis.), play and compete at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 4.
When we arrived at the airport in San Antonio the Sunday before the game, there were people there to greet Jaden with a “Gault” sign and a new letterman’s jacket.
His celebrity status was just beginning.
They quickly took Jaden from us and we were on our own, because he had things to do. He spent the entire day signing autographs and getting his equipment and gear for the game. My wife, Kari, and I also got some new gear. We received Dream Protector T-shirts from American Family, which was a major sponsor of the game. It was at this point when that slogan really started to hit home for us.
Jaden was understandably nervous coming into this week. He had never competed against kids with the combination of size and speed he would go against in this game. His nerves were quickly replaced by confidence after the first day of practice Monday. He did very well during the week, earning the starting left tackle position for the West team.
Throughout the week, when we had the chance to see and talk with Jaden, he continued to impress us with what he told us about his week. He talked about what the coaches were having him do, from a football perspective, and he would tell Kari about all the celebrities he had met that day.
There were hundreds of memories from the week that I could point to as my favorite. It could have been Jaden earning the starting spot or the daily positive mentions on Twitter about Jaden from national recruiting experts, or the two touchdowns that were scored running directly behind Jaden on the goal line, or Jaden being named a finalist for the Anthony Muñoz lineman of the year award (given to the top offensive or defensive lineman in the country).
It could have been any of these things, but the moment I will always remember was watching Jaden on the sidelines during the game, talking to uniformed Army soldiers, shaking their hands and thanking them for their service.
It was at this point I realized, not only have Jaden’s dreams come true, but mine have as well. Jaden had grown into the man I always wanted him to be. He is a great success, but remains humble and thankful to others who give him the opportunity to do what he does.
The week after returning from San Antonio, we signed the lease to Jaden’s first apartment on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, where he will be an early enrollee after graduating from Monona Grove in December. He will start classes and join the Badgers for their spring conditioning and football practice and will play in the spring game in April.
Jaden has set a new dream to one day play in the National Football League. Kari and I will continue to do what we can to nurture and protect that dream.
It didn’t matter what day of the week it was - that cozy little kitchen always smelled heavenly.
My grandma – or ‘Gram’ as I lovingly remember her, was always cooking when I came to visit her tiny house on Pacific Street. Some days she would be standing over the stove flipping fragrant cinnamon-spiced crepes (nicknamed “penny rolls”), and other times I’d find her cranking an apple peeler to make homemade applesauce – the waxy peels falling to the floor with a light ‘thunk’.
Gram had a wonderful way of captivating you with whatever project she was working on when you arrived. Greeting you with a hug so tight you could barely breathe, she would waste no time involving you in her latest endeavor.
“Go out to the garden and cut me some chives for the soup” she would say in her no-nonsense voice, handing me pair of scissors, and shooing me outdoors as soon as I set my suitcase down.
Gram taught me so many things over the years – but I’m most grateful for our time spent cooking together.
Besides sharing ways to make my own kitchen smell irresistible, she helped me discover the simple joy of creating something with your own two hands. And today, when I pull out recipe cards with her wobbly cursive handwriting, I’m grateful for the sweet memories that come flooding back with each line.
Thank you, Gram. I miss you.
What are your fondest memories of a special grandparent? What made them grand?
Editor's note: In the pursuit of dreams, take time to thank those who have helped you along the way. Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude -- or even just take a few moments each day to reflect on everything good in your life. Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.
I went through the gauntlet of third grade 18 years ago, but have yet to escape the happenings of a third grade classroom.
See, I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with a mother, Deb, who has spent her entire adult life molding the lives of third graders (not to mention my grandma and several aunts and uncles who also spent their working lives in classrooms).
Day in and day out, through good days and bad, my mom heads into her classroom with a purpose. She views each day as an opportunity to leave a mark on a young mind. That’s something she won’t allow herself to take for granted because she knows how powerful her job is and can be.
That’s how she’s operated for well over 30 years.
But those who didn’t see her outside of the classroom setting didn’t know her normal day of teaching wasn’t over when she left the building each day. Not even close.
When she got home, even after the worst days, she spent time teaching me and my younger sister. There were nights around the kitchen table when my sister and I would work on homework while my mom graded papers or updated lesson plans. If we had questions, guess who was always there with an answer?
One of the coolest times of my life was when my reading teacher was my mom. I spent 45 minutes in her classroom each day. What I remember most poignantly was how she treated me exactly as she treated the other 20-25 kids in the class.
I was at school to learn. When I was home I could be the teacher’s pet.
I’ve always been grateful for those 45 minutes in her classroom. Seeing my mom do what she loves and do it well molded the way I approached school for the rest of my academic career.
She taught me discipline, respect and compassion. She taught me never to give up on something. She taught me I had what it takes to do whatever I wanted to in life, and that I should never settle for anything less – all things I carry forward to this day.
When I found out I was rejected from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a senior in high school, I felt entirely dejected. Getting that note from the only school I ever wanted to attend could have taken a nasty toll on my confidence.
But without missing a beat, my mom was there to pick me up. She was there to teach me nothing comes easy in life, but everything is possible if you work hard and stay smart. After one year at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I wound up at UW-Madison, where I graduated with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009.
Guess who I said thanks to immediately after the ceremony was over?
What’s also neat is I’m soon to be married to a first-grade teacher, who I’ve already seen impact the lives of many – both educationally and socially – in her two-and-a-half years in a classroom. Though we don’t have any children, I know for a fact there will be plenty of nights around the kitchen table where we all work on homework and educate one another, should that time come.
For that, I’m thankful the most influential teachers in my life were – and continue to be – at my disposal 24/7.
What teachers had the most affect on your life?
When I decided to write a blog post about being thankful for dads, I asked my mom to help find a photo of me with my dad when I was young. A few days after the request, she told me she was having a hard time finding one.
What? How can that be? I have so many great memories of me with my dad. How could it be hard to find one photo of the two of us from the days when my dad was the only man that mattered?
She told me there were photos of me with my other siblings along with my dad, or photos of me with both my parents, but surprisingly no decent photos of just me and my dad. Although I was initially disappointed to learn that, it made me realize what I knew all along.
Maybe there are fewer pictures because my dad was busy doing everything he could just BEING a great dad. He was juggling the responsibilities of me alongside my five siblings and numerous pets, not to mention my mom and a full-time day job. Throw in there some additional schooling while we were kids, and I wonder how he ever had energy to keep up.
But he did keep up, and then some.
No matter how long or busy his day was, or how early in the day or late in the night I asked, he was there. Sometimes being there meant helping me understand my often-procrastinated math homework (accompanied by a stern sentence or two about such procrastination, of course). Sometimes it was playing a little basketball or tennis. Sometimes it was giving me a ride to a friend’s house when I was too cool to hang out at home. And sometimes it was just hanging out, listening to his old records. (This also explains why “Wooly Bully” always reminds me of him.)
When he wasn’t doing all of that, I can only assume he was the one behind the camera, capturing all of the precious moments with the family he loves.
My dad is the most patient, loving, intelligent and level-headed person you will ever know. He’s equally comfortable having a beer with you in the backyard or sipping a glass of wine at a black-tie event. He’s the kind of guy you can’t imagine would have ever had an enemy his entire life. He’s the person you know, even during your snotty teen years, is a man you will love, respect and admire for the rest of your life.
As an adult, my dad’s impact on my life has not diminished. Instead, it’s evolved into exactly what I’d imagine he wanted for me during those formative years. He is a constant influence, a little "Dad voice" in my head. Sometimes it manifests itself as my own voice when I tell my own kids to turn off the lights or direct them to something other than the “good printer paper.”
But more often, it’s the voice that guides my decisions, big and small, day in and day out. When I think I’m too busy to throw a football around with the kids, I think of that time my dad spent with me. When I think about a significant career decision, I try to imagine how my father would approach it. When I decided to marry my husband, you bet I made sure he was good enough to pass the Dad test.
And when I think I don’t have time to drive one and a half hours to hang out with my dad, I remember all of the time he spent making me who I am today.
I honestly don’t know the kind of person I’d be if I had a different father. As his daughter, I naturally possess some of his traits. But I also have the privilege of having grown up with him, which means learning from the best teacher on the planet.
And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.