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Heaven has another angel

By Don Leighton

Special to the Telegram

This may be the toughest piece I will ever write, or it may be the easiest.

I met Elise (Pearson) Brown during the summer of 2002. Her father, Gary, was the sales manager at the local Dodge dealership, Kapus Erickson. Stopping to shoot the bull with him, Mike McLean, Jeff Hendrickson, Dick Moncel and others was a frequent highlight of my day. The greeting I received while walking in to say hello was like what Norm received walking into Cheers.

At one such meeting of the minds, Gary asked if his daughter, Elise, could play AAU basketball with the Superior Super Hoops AAU team. Over the years we had girls from Northwestern play with us, so why not a girl from Solon Springs? That was 12 years ago and was the summer prior to Elise’s senior year at Solon Springs High School. What a special summer it turned out to be.

Elise had lived in Superior until moving to Solon Springs during her freshman year, so she had played basketball with her AAU teammates through grade school and junior high. Because she already knew the other players, it was a natural that she play with us. We won some games; we lost some games, but we had fun and enjoyed the friendships and relationships that still exist today. I was lucky to coach Elise and the other wonderful young ladies.

That winter, Pat Flynn and I went to Solon Springs to watch Elise play. We were not aware it was parents’ night and settled in our front row seats during the junior varsity game in anticipation of watching our friend.

This would be a fun night as the referees for the varsity game made their appearance. Officials and friends Steve High and Andy Sislo presented easy targets for the occasional, “Hey ref, blow the whistle!”

Prior to the varsity game, the public address announcer asked the parents to stand as their daughters were introduced. The players were introduced, went to their parents in the stands, and then one of the most special moments of my life happened. Elise ran over to me and gave me a hug. To this day, I’m not sure if the folks of Solon Springs think Gary or I was Elise’s father. Elise scored her career-best 26 points that night. It was a special night.

Elise graduated valedictorian from SSHS in 2003, married a great young man and high school sweetheart Nathan Brown on Sept. 9, 2006 and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in legal studies and political science from UW-Superior in 2008. She was an All-Region Attorney Award honoree.

Elise was accepted to Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and in May, 2013 she graduated with a Juris Doctorate from Hamline and then passed the Minnesota Bar Exam in October, 2013. She was hired by Geraghty-O’Loughlin-Kenny as an attorney.

Obviously that one year I was honored to coach her in basketball was an important component in her academic success.

Her busy and productive life was interrupted on May 6, 2010 and Dec. 13, 2013 by unwelcome news from her oncologist. Being the unique and positive person she was, Elise relied on her tremendous faith in God that whatever “He” had in mind, things would be O.K. What she accomplished while facing an uncertain future is a true testament to her faith. Have I said how special she was?

After her initial diagnosis, various fundraisers were held to help Elise and her family. Hamline University, Fuller’s Restaurant, Hidden Greens Golf Course, the Duluth Air National Guard (where Nathan was employed) and Grizzly’s in Superior were just a few who helped raise more than $35,000 to assist with medical expenses.

Coach Flynn and I were “guest” bartenders at Grizzly’s for one night during the summer of 2010. I did all of the work while Pat “worked the room.” He will tell you otherwise, but who are you going to believe? More than $2,000 was raised that night for Elise. Mom and dad, Lori and Gary, were there, and many friends and complete strangers generously contributed. Another special night.

Elise Pearson Brown was an incredible and brilliant young lady who accomplished more in her 29 years than most will in a lifetime. Her faith in the Lord served her well and will for the rest of time. Her character, love of life, sense of humor and balanced approach to her daily existence mirror that of her parents. You see, the “apple does not fall far from the tree.”

She left us on Monday, May 26, 2014 and will be missed by all she met. How blessed we are to have known her and had her in our lives for 29 wonderful years.

We are all better because of that acquaintance. If you could ask her today if she had a “wonderful life”, she would smile and say, “Of course I did!”

Was this the toughest or easiest article I have ever written? Yes it was.

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