Dylan Smith is honored as much for his spirit as for his fight against MD

Grandson of Falls' Athletic Secretary Shirley Smith

Oct. 29, 2012

Even though she had been told by all the higher-ups in the district to take the time off, Shirley Smith went back to work on Monday because the longtime athletic secretary at Menomonee Falls High School knew that her new boss, hardworking Indians Athletic Director Ryan Anderson, wouldn't be able to schedule a bus for the state-qualifying girls volleyball team this week without her.

That's the cover story anyway, worth a small laugh.

The real reason is, it's just good to keep busy in time of sorrow.

Especially after the long, sad week she had just endured. She had said her final goodbyes this past weekend to her beloved grandson, 13-year-old Dylan Smith. Dylan, as it said in his touching obituary, finally "won" his lifelong battle Duchene's Muscular Dystrophy on Oct. 20.

"He's out there running marathons, maybe he's done two or three of them already," said Shirley, at the touching services held Friday at Schmidt and Bartelt in Menomonee Falls.

Though wheelchair-bound most of his life, Dylan was as much a part of the Falls Athletic Department as any able-bodied teenager. He served as a batboy for the storied class of 2010's baseball team and the autographed bat the team gave him is prominently displayed in his bedroom, football coach John Baker always considered Dylan a part of the team.

There were lovely flower arrangements from both the football and wrestling teams among the dozens on display at Schmidt and Bartelt.

"And that was all because of Shirley," Anderson said. "He would show up at events from time-to-time and the place would always light up because of him."

"Valor is stability not of legs and arms but of courage and the soul."

- Michael de Montaigne, on one of many little signs at the funeral home

The valor was needed, as toward the end, he had only limited mobility with his hands. It allowed him to play his beloved videogames, but the never-ending effects of his muscle-wasting disease reduced what was possible for him by increments and required painful surgeries including one a year ago to place stabilizing rods on either side of his spine.

He didn't complain and stayed the involved student at Falls North Middle School. In an outpouring of love and respect last winter, many organizations including the Optimists Club and his Falls North Middle School classmates combined on a fundraiser to get him a new motorized chair, one that his grandmother said at the time would allow him to become "More mobile, be more like any other kid."

Anderson was Dean of Students and Athletic Director at North back then and his class sold more than 500 T-shirts for the effort. Dylan himself made concerted efforts to help in the process.

"I'll never forget his face when we got the order in for his chair," Anderson said. "He didn't know it was coming in that quickly. We got it in a week or two earlier, and we were able to present it to him in the gym.

"… You should have seen his face."

The Oct. 20 service was intended as a celebration of life.

Visitors could create little memory discs of their time with him, there was a video montage and there were several large photo boards of a person not disabled but as fully enabled in life as he could be, swimming in the pool, going on a hunting trip with his father, Kurt, (who sported a handsome new tattoo of Dylan's likeness on his forearm) and of being everywhere his motorized chair would allow him to go.

He was also as much a part of his father's beloved Menomonee Falls Fire Department, too, (several pictures of him had him with a fire hat on, beaming next to his dad and his fellow firefighters). There was a line of honor of department members near where people signed in at the home and an honor guard in dress uniform stood in watch at the front.

His grandmother was amazed at the formal ceremony involving a shining fire ax when one firefighter came up to relieve another who had stood watch.

Nearby, instead of a casket, there were two picture boards with large, handwritten letters from his younger siblings, Emily and McKenna. One was so eager, almost elegant in its wording, a small child's questions of heaven like, do you get to play games up there? Do you eat and is the food good?

It almost sounded like the writer was a bit jealous because they knew what a good time Dylan must be having already.

The Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley song "When I get where I'm going" was playing in the background. All the lyrics are quite relevant to Dylan and his family's life but this line stands out:

"When I get where I'm going, on the far side of the sky, the first thing I'm gonna do is spread my wings and fly."

The visitation started at 3 p.m. Oct. 20 and still at 5:30 p.m., the line was extending out the door on the chilly, but crystal-clear early fall evening.

The only things wrong with the ceremony included the fact that about 140 of Dylan's classmates were on a field trip to Washington, D.C., and could not be there. Anderson noted that many parents of those students came in their place to honor Dylan.

The other sad thing about the service was that Dylan wasn't there to greet all those people and say "thank you" to them.

His remains were transported home atop a fire truck on Oct. 21.

"He really has 'won' his battle," Anderson said. "He's been liberated from that body."

Earning, in a different way, the ability to be the "great, lovable kid" his grandmother always said he was.

Dylan Smith is survived by his parents Kurt and Jennifer Smith, siblings Emily and McKenna, and grandparents Edward and Shirley Smith and James and Linda Wobig. He is further survived by many other relatives and friends.

"Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think."

- Christopher Robin to Pooh on another sign at the service.

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