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Acts of kindness mark 35th birthday of late Indiana man

Posted January 13

— Mickinzie Marks clutched a daisy and walked across the classroom to one of her former teachers.

The Ireland Elementary fourth-grader handed over the flower and the teacher wrapped the pupil in her arms. One squeeze. Then another. A long hug. The kind that really means something. Might make you cry a little, because the daisy wasn't elaborate — a single bloom wrapped in white tissue paper — but the message went so much deeper.

Mickinzie's father was Matt Marks, a Jasper man who was only 27 years old when he died of complications from a brain tumor in 2009 and a person who liked to make those around him smile.

Tuesday would have been Matt's 35th birthday, and Mickinzie's daisy was part of a family mission to honor and remember Matt by showering the community with 35 acts of kindness. Some random. Some planned. Some elaborate. Some simple.

There were no boundaries.

Just the idea that it's never a bad thing to do something good.

"This day is a hard day for us. Celebrations like birthdays are usually happy days," said Shannon Bauer, Matt's sister. "We get sad. But this is a joyful day. It's still hard but we're busy doing things for other people and knowing that kindness is spreading to others, that's perfect."

Shannon, the oldest of Lenny and Nancy Marks' two children, remembers Matt this way: fun, smiling, loving. Happy even when he was ill with two brain tumors — the first was successfully removed and the second iteration of glioblastoma, the harshest type of brain tumor, came back too aggressively for Matt's body to counteract.

She remembers very few spats with her brother and if their mom was snapping at them to do something, and Shannon got ticked, Matt urged her to chill. Drop the argument. Let it go. Be happy.

Others agree: You saw Matt, you felt better.

The idea for the acts of kindness began after Shannon heard about a former Butler University basketball player named Andrew Smith who last year lost his battle to cancer but spread his positive attitude along the way.

The wave of altruism reminded Shannon of her brother and her plan began to crystallize Sunday during a trial run at baking homemade cinnamon rolls for staff at Ireland and some folks in need in the community.

Monday at the school, Shannon, a third-grade teacher, guided her students as they made chemo bags — large Ziploc bags stuffed with a cover (the treatment makes patients feel cold), snacks (food is comfort), chewy candy and lip balm (dry lips are common during chemo) and tissues (it's OK to be sad about being ill).

Shannon planned to deliver nine of the 10 bags to the Lange-Fuhs Cancer Center in Jasper. One went home with a student, Jetta Tormohlen, whose father is undergoing chemotherapy. Also in the bag were cards to patients. Lily Saypharath began this way: "Dear boy or girl, I hope that you get better soon. And don't worry you will get better. In my class religion, I always pray for you every time I get the chance to and believe that God will watch over you..."

In a fifth-grade room down the hall, teacher Heather Pfister led students as they brainstormed ideas to be carried out in school, at home and in the community after their classmate, Carson Bauer, got up to speak about the day. Matt was Carson's uncle and godfather. Among Carson's favorite memories are the time, during a camping trip at Lincoln State Park, when Matt was willing to ride bikes with Carson on a sweltering day. They rode more than an hour, because Carson wanted to and Matt wanted to be there with him.

Carson's classmates thought they could pick up trash, donate money to Riley Hospital for Children, help mom clean, write a note to dad, let support staff at the school know they're appreciated.

Josie Bush wanted to leave inspirational quotes laying for whoever passed by.

Paige Giesler vowed to help with the dishes.

Elise Lampert figured it might be good to get out of bed without complaining.

Already Tuesday morning, most students in Shannon's class had already taken action.

The list: helped my brother with math; poured cereal for my sister; let my little sister play video games with me; paid for my own food at Wendy's; made a dessert for dad that didn't exactly turn out correct but tasted good enough that he said he liked it; changed a diaper because dad was sick and puking and mom was stressed out and it was getting late and she still needed to take a shower.

At least for a while Monday and Tuesday, curriculum bowed to real life.

"I think them learning this at a young age can only be a positive," Shannon said. "We need to teach them that kindness inspires kindness. It's great that they're being involved, being challenged."

On Shannon's at-home list were the cinnamon rolls and ideas from her own children, Carson, third-grade twins Ethan and Emma and 2-year-old Luke. They wanted to leave money on the rides at Walmart and drop popcorn and money at Redbox movie rental stations in town. Participants in Matt's movement could leave small cards explaining the mission or act anonymously.

Mickinzie planned to deliver more daisies to current and former teachers and go with her mom, Brooke (Kunz), to visit other children in town who have lost parents to cancer. Brooke had other plans, like dropping off money at the Mill House, footing the bill for folks there eating a meal at the place where she and Matt had their first date. Brooke, who married Matt in 2005, chatted with Mickinzie about how it's OK to feel two ways when talking about Dad — there's the sad tears and there's the happy tears.

"We talked about how it's not necessarily easy to do," Brooke said. "We're excited but it's OK to be emotional. She is emotional and she knows where she can go because she has a big support group."

That group might be bigger than those who knew Matt suspect. There was a stream of activity in Indianapolis and good deeds as far away as Ohio, Michigan and Florida. When Shannon paid for the person behind her at McDonald's in Jasper and handed the worker in the drive-thru the piece of paper with Matt's picture, the employee said she'd received 20 or so of the those cards. A pool built at Brew in Jasper, where folks had handed over money to pay for whoever was next up.

"Shannon said each person she runs into, they were talking about it," Nancy said. "We thought, 'If everyone did one thing, how great it would be?' Now, people are doing many things."

Thirty-five acts of kindness turned into hundreds.

Nancy and Lenny stopped at the police station and fire station just to say thanks. Visited with some friends who have helped them out. Went to Mass to give thanks for a community that wrapped them in support as Matt fought for his life.

It was then the Marks family learned that the simple stuff means so much. They won't forget.

"Some of the things we did were not as random, but little random things we can do, you hope that's the takeaway," Nancy said. "You can do that every day and make a huge difference in people's lives."

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Source: Dubois County Herald, http://bit.ly/2ikfeNk

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