by Dennis Dalman
In the three years that April Myers was battling brain cancer, her most enthusiastic cheerleader was her little niece, Kylie, who gave her love and support through the surgery, the radiation, the chemotherapy, the occupational therapy, the speech therapy.
April and Kylie Myers-Schleif, who was ages 4 to 7 at the time, were known as two peas in a pod. They loved to goof around, act silly and have lots of fun.
When April, 55, died on April 12, 2018, it was heartrending for Kylie’s parents to tell her wonderful Aunt April would not be able to be at her upcoming 8th birthday party, Kylie did not – would not – understand. How could she even think of a birthday party without Aunt April?
Kylie’s parents are Mike and Ruthie Myers-Schleif of Sauk Rapids. Ruthie’s brother is Scott, the husband of April. They (Scott and April) have a daughter, Megan, who is now in her mid-20s.
Now 8 years old, Kylie finally accepts that Aunt April is gone, but she refuses to let go of her memory, which she and her family keep alive by joining in the fight against cancer. They have organized a benefit concert for the American Cancer Society that will take place starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9, at The Waters Church in Sartell. The concert will star the Okee Dokee Brothers, a Grammy-Award winning musical duo with background musicians. All proceeds from the concert will go to the ACS. For tickets ($20), go to www.okeedokee.org and click on the “Shows” tab, then click on “Event Details” next to the listing for “May 9 Performance at The Waters Church.”
The doors will open at 5:30 p.m. The food truck from Lily’s Wings Burgers & Things will be on site so concert-goers can get a bite or two to eat. The concert will begin at 6:30 p.m. and last probably an hour. Afterward, attendees can meet the brothers and get their photos taken.
When Kylie was in kindergarten at Mississippi Heights Middle School, the school district held its annual fundraiser, “The Walk for Life,” to raise money for the American Cancer Society. It was a cause dear to Kylie’s heart because that was the year her aunt was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Kylie’s mother asked her if she’d like to have a lemonade stand to raise money in honor of April. Kylie leaped at the chance and started the “Kylie’s Kickin’ Cancer Lemonade Stand.”
Three years later, when April died, Kylie’s parents wondered how the family could keep making an impact on the fight against the disease. They, along with Kylie, had attended several Okee Dokee Brothers concerts in this area and in the Twin Cities.
“We absolutely love their energetic, fun and family-friendly music,” Ruthie Myers-Schleif said. “I sent an email asking about a benefit concert, and their booking agent called me back and said it was a possibility. Yes, my jaw hit the floor!”
Ruthie is a former first-grade teacher at Rice Elementary School. Husband Mike teaches in the Alternative Program at McKinley School.
A force of life
April Myers, said sister-in-law Ruthie, was an energetic force of life with a heart of gold and loved to help others. She was a housing director for the Good Shepherd Community Home in Sauk Rapids, but that was only her day job. She also did a never-ending, inexhaustible amount of volunteering – at Good Shepherd and many other places. She loved to “give back,” as she called it, so much as that in 2016 she was named Sauk Rapids Citizen of the Year.
Her energy extended to a deep love of bicycling, and every year she took a week-long bike trip in Minnesota.
“She knew so many people!” said Ruthie. “After she was diagnosed with brain cancer, I would take her sometimes to appointments, and we would go to eat afterward. And she would start talking and making friends with anyone, everyone. When we’d go to Coborn’s she’d see so many people she knew that we’d be in that store a long time.”
April, Ruthie noted, was one of those people that others just love at first meeting.
“Her favorite activity – or one of them – was decorating for Christmas,” Ruthie recalled. “At Good Shepherd, she would decorate 10 trees every Christmas season, and every single decoration had to be placed on a tree just so, just perfectly. She was very, very meticulous about that.”
Ruthie said she and her family will continue helping in the fight against cancer, always with April Myers in mind.
“We’re not giving up,” she said. “Like April, we need to continue to ‘give back’ and so helping raise money against cancer is how we’re going to give back – in memory of her.”
The Okee Dokee Brothers are not biological brothers, although in their long-time love of adventure and music-making they might as well be brothers, if not twins.
Their names are Joe Mailander (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Justin Lansing (vocals, banjo). As childhood friends, they grew up in the Denver area, enjoying adventurous treks and journeys. They now live in Minneapolis.
They write their own songs. Three times they were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Children’s Album, and in 2013 they took home the award for the CD entitled “Can You Canoe?”
Their latest CD, called “Winterland,” has received warm reviews for its evocations of the enjoyments of winter weather and lots of snow, something that many Minnesotans – at least after this winter – might not warm up to quite as quick as the music reviewers.
Their music, often whimsical and gently funny, is a mixture of bluegrass, folk, storybook style – performed often in a sing-along-style, involving the audience from song to song.
Lansing and Mailander often take long treks (Appalachian Trail, Western Canyon Country, Mississippi River journey from Minnesota to St. Louis). Those adventures inspire the songs they write and perform to delighted audiences far and wide.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.