The world loses a friend

The world lost a great friend yesterday.

Dennis Kleppe

Dennis Kleppe wasn’t just my friend, he was a friend to everyone he met.  That’s just the way he was.  A quiet man by nature, he was uncomfortable in any social setting and often retreated to the comfort of his own home, where he was content to just be.

He once confided in me that he hated the way his anxiety controlled him but nothing seemed to help. Doctors tried to treat him with medicine but that didn’t always work.

Yes, Dennis would rather hide away in his sanctuary, but he was always the first to come to the aid of a friend, which he considered most people to be.

Dennis was 48 when the cancer finally overtook him, taking his life away a little at a time, playing games with his sanity.

He once said that if there is one thing he learned, it’s that life’s not fair. “That’s just the way it is,” he said. “You gotta roll with the punches and not let it consume you.”

Dennis dealt with life the way he dealt with his anxiety. He didn’t let it consume him; he knew he had to accept life on life’s terms. He said that was the only way he made it through some days.

He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2006. They took half of a lung and one of his kidneys, and told him that though there was a chance the cancer would return, he still had a fighting chance.

Dennis didn’t let his cancer stop him from pursuing his dream, a dream he shared with his brother, Lenny. They had worked for years for other people in the pawn and loan business and finally decided to go into business for themselves.

Kleppe Family Jewelry opened on Sixth Street SW without much inventory but a lot of hope and faith. Things went well for Dennis and Lenny and built their clientele little by little.  Unfortunately, the Flood of 2008 damaged their building, and their stock. “Everything but the guns,” Dennis told me one day after it happened. “That’s because they were in the safe.”

But the flood didn’t stop the Kleppe Brothers, either.

Dennis said they didn’t know how they were going to do it, but they were going to try.

“We owe it to the community to rebuild,” he said, looking around at the damaged neighborhood. “We have to show them the way back.”

And they did. They reopened on Black Friday in 2008, again without much inventory, but a lot of spirit.

Dennis received the bad news that his cancer had returned last year on a routine doctor visit.

“Stage 4,” he said. “Terminal.”

While he patiently explained to me what that was, I couldn’t help but notice how calm he was.

“How are you really?” I asked.

Maybe I asked because I didn’t really know what to say, how to respond, something, anything that would somehow make this not be real. Maybe I asked because I really wanted to know how he felt about the whole idea of dying.

“Well,” he said, the way he always did when he was especially reflective on a subject.  “It sucks. I’m not ready, but I’ve made peace with God. There’s no hope of ever getting better.  But my niece Nicole told me, ‘There’s always hope.’ But I don’t think so. It’s Stage 4. That’s all there is.”

He said he didn’t want to do the chemo. He heard about others who had done it and they died anyway. “They said it would prolong my life up to a year.” After he thought about it a minute, he said, “But, I guess I will…for them.”

And he did, for them, for us, for everyone who loved him. Because that’s just the way he was. He never thought about himself, always about others and how it would affect them.

He really was everyone’s friend. And he will be greatly missed.

I went to see him a few days ago and I was sad because he didn’t even know I was there. I wanted him to know how much he meant to me and to everyone. But after thinking about it, I realized that he already knew.

His girlfriend Tracy, his family and all of his friends showed their love for him right to the end, and he left this world knowing how very much he was loved. What a way to go…

Most people should be so lucky.

Those who surrounded Dennis and were there when he needed them most are just a reflection of what Dennis had done for so many others during his lifetime. His life had come full circle.

My friendship with Dennis has taught me more about what it’s like to have a good friend. He also reminded me that life is way too short. We need to enjoy the people we love while we have them and never let a day go by without telling them how we feel.

Thanks, Dennis, for being my friend. Thanks for being there when I really needed someone to talk to, to confide in, and a shoulder to cry on. Thanks for listening to my sometimes-nonsensical gibberish and telling me that I need to suck it up and move on. Because that’s what real friends do. They don’t tell you what you want to hear, they tell you what you need to hear.

Your broad smile and quiet presence will always remain in our hearts, and your many words of wisdom will never be forgotten.

Graduation is important-even to a 5-year-old

When you’re 5, you have your whole world in front of you. You can grow up to be anything you want; a housekeeper (to keep the house safe), a princess ballerina, a ninja, or even a Transformer if you really put your mind to it.

My granddaughter Isabelle wants to be a vet. She already has a love for animals that began, I’m sure, at birth. Pigs, giraffes and kitties have always been a part of her menagerie of stuffed animals, along with a random puppy or two.

Isabelle Coutentos, Class of 2024

Isabelle graduated from Rainbow Kids this morning, and they did it in style, complete with gowns and tassels. Some people may think that it was a bit extreme for 5-year-olds, but I don’t think so. Giving something for children to be proud of could have an impact on how they look at  education, or their lives, for that matter. It could take them to places they never imagined possible.

When the little graduates were handed their diplomas, all of them smiled broadly for their fans, holding their accomplishment out in front them for all to see.

It reminded me that we should make a big deal out of little things. When you’re little, everything is new and exciting, and making a big deal out of an ordinary day makes for lasting memories.

And that would make all the difference in the world.

(To see Isabelle’s graduation  video, click here:

Slow but sure-The Hiawatha Advocate (week 2)

Things are going as well as I expected for the first week of my online newspaper. I have my first story online, some pictures, and I am working on a format and creating a flag that will draw readers and say, “Read Me!”

Well, it isn’t much, but it is something, and I think this is the way I’m supposed to do it. The best advice I ever recieved about starting my own newspaper was by Lori Linder, former owner of the Solon Economist and North Liberty Leader who said, “Make sure everything is ready before you begin. Once you start, there’s no going back.”

Photo by Joe Sheller

So maybe the fear of failure is keeping me in check, but the thing that I’m thinking most about, is that I want to be ready. This online mini-newspaper is just a precursor for bigger and better things. I really do feel that this is the way it’s supposed to be. When I put my first issue out on Feb. 29, 2012, I will be ready. The hard part is waiting until that time and not rush it. Sticking with the original plan is crucial.

This summer will also be a learning experience. (Break? What break?) Getting out and meeting the community is something I also planned on doing this summer. Working on my website ( will also prepare me for my final term at Mount Mercy University as web editor for the Mount Mercy Times. I was lucky to get in on the final production of the Times’ web edition ( of the graduation festivities at Mount Mercy. I learned a lot about the website process in my hands-on experience, and know it will benefit me immensely.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to do much relaxing this summer, and I’m OK with that. It’s getting me to a place that I once thought was impossible, and everything I do, I can learn from. So I’ll keep taking that next step forward, trust my instincts, and never pass up the opportunity to experience life, even if I’m tired or not feeling up to it. I know I’ll thank myself later.

The Hiawatha Advocate-Week 1

The idea of owning a newspaper has always been at the back of my mind, but it was an idea that never seemed attainable. Going back to school and earning my degree, working on my schools’ newspaper, seeing every new experience as a learning tool; these were all instrumental in getting here, to this place, today.

Today, I’m going after my first story for the Hiawatha Advocate website. It won’t be much, just the summer reading program at the Hiawatha Library, but it represents so much more. This is something I have worked my whole life to achieve. I am making  my dream happen.

I’ve never been someone who does anything by the book (believe me, I’ve tried).  A rebel at heart, I remember always wanting to know, “Why?”  I got used to hearing the old parental standby, “Because I said so.”

But I knew there was more to it and vowed to find the answers myself. As I grew up, that inquisitive spirit never left, and though parenting took a big chuck of my time and energy, I never lost that constant need to question.

Mid-life ascended upon me and I found myself questioning more than just why. I think what and how also played into it. I wasn’t sure about the answers to either, but my search led me on a journey of self-discovery and self-realization. I fought hard to shed the past and create my future. Inside the confusion that was me, I found a true journalist, an editor, a publisher and a business owner.

Getting to this place was not easy, but I’m not a stranger to hard work. I often challenge myself to do more, to push myself to the limit. When I get close to that limit, I back off, but just long enough to regain my foothold.

Sometimes I don’t even think about if I’m doing the right thing; I already know. I trust myself and my instincts and know that even if things don’t always go the way I want them to, all is not lost; I just have to adjust my course.

So here it is; the first day of the Hiawatha Advocate website.  I’m not quite ready for print, but it’s a major step in the right direction. I think I’ll take a minute and enjoy it.

News not all it seems to be

The early mornings hours are usually my own. I get up at 5:30 and do whatever I want for a few hours, usually without interruption. Once I have  my coffee and my laptop, I settle back onto my bed and turn on the morning news. The local news comes on and for and for an hour or so, I am brought up to speed as to the happenings in my city. After that, it’s Good Morning, America!

I’m probably what I would refer to as a fair-weathered friend of the show. I enjoy the hosts (Robin Roberts and her battle with breast cancer, George Stephanopoulos, with his boyish charm, and Sam Champion with his impressive knowledge of the weather) and they have a great setup.  However, there are times when I wonder who does the programming.

When  a huge news story breaks, the show headlines the topic for a week, inundating the public with the latest tidbits. After numerous reports of the ins and outs of the story, from  personal accounts (“I collect royal wedding memorabilia”) to expert interviews on the latest disasters (“Yes, the crazy weather could possible, most likely, maybe be contributed to global warming”) the sensationalism finally winds down to a trickle, and sometimes disappears all-together.

I’m not knocking the show’s news sense, but enough is enough. Two weeks of learning about Kate Middleton, watching videos of how she and William met, dedicating a whole show to the wedding itself and ignoring the real news is, in my opinion, a bad choice. When I watch news, it’s because I’m concerned with what’s happening in the world around me, rather than someone’s lovelife.

Sometimes I think the show is meant to be more entertaining than anything else. Their concern for ratings might dictate their sense of programming, and I can’t argue with that.  However, I don’t consider that to be hard-hitting journalism.

This whole topic comes as a result of a conversation I had with my professor yesterday on writing, finding the news and putting it in the lead of a story.

Finding the news. As simple as it sounds, it isn’t always easy that easy for me. Joe is always reminding me not to write “brochure copy,” and at first, I didn’t quite understand what he meant. What’s wrong with brochure copy? It can be

Courtesy of Google Images

entertaining, right?

Maybe, but it’s not news. I understand that now.

For years I wrote just to write; now I’m writing with a purpose. I am a journalist and I write the news. If I want people to read my news stories, I have to make the stories compelling and interesting. I won’t be selling newspapers if they aren’t.

This is just one challenge I face as I become publisher of my own newspaper. I’m still learning, but I’m getting closer, taking it one step at a time.

News in a nutshell

A lot has happened in that past two weeks. I scarcely had the chance to think about the royal wedding before the world was told that Osama Bin Laden was taken down. The next day, local news had a field day when a hydrogen truck blew up at the Duane Arnold Energy Center and a man fell to his death from the federal building under construction in Cedar Rapids.

Through it all, I had interviews to conduct, presentations to present, stories to write, senior projects to piece together, and term papers to research. So, I had to prioritize. My personal agenda came first, of course, but the news of the world weighed heavily on my mind.

So here are my thoughts on some of the happenings in the universe, in a nutshell:

Like many people, I was getting pretty tired of listening to the non-stop dribble of the lives of the British prince William and his lovely fiance, Kate. But then they brought in the memory of Diana, whom I respected because of her love for her children and humanity, and I caved a little. Then they talked about how, in an interview, the  Kate Middleton, the future Duchess of Cambridge said, when asked if she felt lucky dating the prince, replied, “I think he should be lucky to be dating me!” Smart girl.

I also realized that because of their love for tradition, this was probably a really huge deal for them, and probably all they have to look forward to. So I had to cut them some slack.  I was amazed, however, at the media’s respect to leave them alone for their shortened honeymoon. Lucky for them (and us) Bin Laden was killed that very weekend.

My son called late that Sunday night and told me that Bin Laden was dead. Because my son likes to tell stories, I had to turn on the TV to check it out. It sounds kind of silly, but I was in shock to see it and hear it on national television. Finally, after 10 years of hunting this man down, he was hijacked in his own bedroom by our own Navy SEALS.

Like I said, at first it was shock, but then when I saw how many people were celebrating the death of this man, I was kind of sad, sad that a man who had killed so many and was Hell-bent on killing more in the name of his God, was really a pathetic old man on an ego trip. What took so long?  I had to agree with a news skit on Saturday Night Live when the anchor, comedian Seth Meyers, said that the stories kept changing as to how Bin Laden died. He quipped, “No one cares, Guys, we’re just glad you did it.”

Other events, which happened locally, included a man who was thought to have fallen from the Federal building that is under construction downtown. Officials still aren’t sure what happened, but the man was laid off that day, leading those who knew him to believe he may have committed suicide.

And if that wasn’t enough, I got a phone call from my mother who said that 9 news broke in during, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” that said that there had been an explosion at the nuclear plant in Palo. The news channel said that everyone was fine, the truck driver delivering fuel was only slightly injured. It tuned out OK, but still, a very intense few hours.

So it just goes to show you, when it rains, it pours.  An old cliché, maybe used way too much, but very fitting in cases such as these. It’s a reminder that you can’t predict hen real news will happened and you have to be prepared to handle many stories at once, or maybe none at all. I’ve heard of a “slow news day” but what do you call it when you have way too much to cover?

Maybe penning a new term is in order.  How about, an “All Hell breaks loose” day? Oh wait, I think that one’s been used.

Disappointed with LOST vote

I’m disappointed that the local option sales tax didn’t get passed. An extra cent on  our sales tax wouldn’t have made much difference alone, but the city really could have used the extra income.  Now where are we going to get the money needed to secure our city from future floods and other rebuilding of the city? Most likely from property taxes.

I know there are many Cedar Rapids residents who don’t care much for this town, but living in for 48 years, I have become quite fond of the crazy quadrants and one way streets. I know the ins and outs, the shortcuts and backways, and the out-of -way spots where I can go to be alone. I love the parks and trails that I can use for free (for now) and the beautiful five seasons. And I was prepared to pay a little extra in my sales tax to take care of it.

I feel a responsibility to my city.  I live here, I work here and I go to school here. It’s really a great place to live but I don’t think everyone sees it that way. I hear people complain all the time about how bad the officials are, how there is nothing to do, and how dirty it looks since the flood. So what are they doing about it besides complaining? Do they have a solution as to how we are supposed to accomplish that? Now that one solution has been suggested, it’s been defeated.

There was a news report on the other night that showed that Grand Forks, North Dakota had been in the same position Cedar Rapids is in before they built their flood wall. Since it was erected, it has saved them not only from flooding but spending huge amounts of money on clean-up, as well. Maybe if more people would have watched that report, they would understand why we needed that extra sales tax.

I just hope the majority knows what it’s doing.