Once in a while you meet them, pure souls so in tune with the richness and depth of life’s spirit, you can’t understand why everyone else isn’t exactly like them… including yourself.
Certainly their lives have been perfect, untouched by human drama or misfortune, for if so, how could they possibly be so kind, so giving… and so forgiving?
Yet it’s those who come from the depths, those who fight to survive and those who continue to climb, who live as examples of the best of this human existence.
We are illuminated by their light, we support them through their darkness, we learn from their story.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (126): A Difference In The World
Get your motor running,
head out on the highway.
Looking for adventure
and whatever comes our way.
– Lyrics by The Cult
It’s always been about the road. It’s where life truly began together for Don and Jo Dente and the same place that nearly brought an end to life for someone, whom together, they created.
Don and Jo met at a prom at a Nevada high school in the late 70’s, albeit there with other dates, but there was an attraction neither could deny. It wasn’t long before the two were finally on a date, up all night, talking in Don’s truck outside a bass festival. Fishing had always been Don’s love, but he quickly realized he had found another… her name was Jo.
The two got to know a lot about each other, including Jo’s story of her life up to that point, trapped in a family with troubled and abusive parents. Don decided he wasn’t going to let Jo live this way, and so on that night in August of 1979, Romeo decided to rescue Juliet.
Don showed up at Jo’s house on his motorcycle, Jo had packed her belongings in a sleeping bag, jumped out her window and onto Don’s bike and the two hit the open road. The ride of life for the young couple was about to start, though the two had no real place to begin, nowhere to call home. They feared Jo’s Italian family, with some serious connections, would be after them, so they eventually wound their way from Nevada to Idaho and found a small farm. The two lived in a shack that winter with no refrigerator, keeping their food cold on a porch out back, and only a small wood burning stove. They survived on Don’s skill as a fisherman, eating mostly fish and Top Ramen. They slept on a blanket on the floor and had only a small radio, but they had each other… and lots of love.
Don eventually found work in what was a high-paying job at the time – working as a chain-hand on drilling rigs in Wyoming. The pay was 18-dollars-an-hour. At 20 years-of-age it was good money for Don Dente, but life on the road, at least for the time being, was about to end. Jo’s parents came calling – asking her and Don to come back home. The young couple eventually married in a small 24 hour Silver Bells Wedding Chapel in back in Reno, Nevada in 1981. They were home again, but not for long.
The twists and turns in the Dente’s lives since the two first ventured out together on Don’s bike have been amazing, more than can be recounted in one short story. But at the core of their life’s adventure have been a few things, including Don’s fall and rise in the insurance business. He first found a company called UGA back in the early 80’s and went 0-for-20 on his first 20 appointments, nearly forcing him back into work on the drilling rig. “I was driving home from another unsuccessful appointment thinking this isn’t going to work”, says Don. “I see a drilling rig and thought I will just go back to what I know. They hired me on the spot. That night I worked the graveyard shift, I came home and fell on the floor. I said I’m not doing this anymore, I’m going to make this insurance work.”
Don went to his manager and asked for help, he recorded his manager’s presentation and memorized it. “If people saw me driving down the road they would see me talking to myself, saying it over and over”, says Don. I said a prayer to my heavenly father, I won’t drink or do anything if I can make these next four sales.” Don went 4-for-4 and went on to become one of the top ten agents in the company, helping to train others along the way.
“I saw how good he was”, says Jo. “He is so good at helping people, he loves helping people and I told him you should get into management. He tells me no way, my only day off is Sunday and I won’t get to fish.” But the couple had a growing family and so Don took his wife’s advice and asked for a management position, but it meant another move, this time to Des Moines, Iowa. The couple sold their home, took the $6000 they had to their name, made the move and they made it happen. Jo, now 6 months pregnant with the couple’s second child, got licensed, and the two sold policies, recruited and trained new agents, eventually getting promoted to a Regional position.
The insurance business found the Dente’s traveling everywhere from Iowa, to California, to Hawaii, to Florida. And all the while the other focus of their lives, their family, kept growing.
The Dente’s now have twelve children in all – four from natural childbirth and eight others they have adopted through the years. One of the pure threads that bind Don and Jo together and why they share such great love is their deep passion for helping others, opening their hearts and their home to those in need. What you give you attract and what you get you deserve. And it’s the reason why, when right now the Dente’s own family is in need, so many have come calling.
It was August 13th of this year when the Dente’s oldest daughter Cassidi was critically injured in a car accident on a Florida road. Her vehicle flipped over several times, trapping her inside.
The other driver involved in the accident, Nate, came to her rescue and tells the story of how another person appeared at the scene as well. Nate says the man came over said a prayer and Cassidi – at that point barely conscious – awoke to say a single word – Amen. Nate says he never saw the man again, and told the Dente’s though he’s not a god-fearing man, he now believes.
As do so many others who believe in the Dente’s. For Cassidi, this is the second battle of her still young life. Born premature, Cassidi was initially diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but Don and Jo say after another set of prayers and a blessing around the age of two, Cassidi began to improve, much of it because of her hard work. Don says Cassidi works harder than anyone: “She was a bit slower than her peers, but she works harder. She worked twice as hard to get good grades, worked twice as hard at sports, worked twice as hard for everything. The doctors missed the diagnosis at childbirth and this accident is the second time around for her, she’s determined to prove them wrong.”
Since the accident Cassidi has been mostly paralyzed from the neck down, a quadriplegic, but by medical definition only, not by spirit, mindset, or will. Jo has spent nearly every day in the hospital and rehab with her daughter and says Cassidi’s favorite thing to tell the doctors who treat her is to be more optimistic: “She says to them, ‘I’m going to surprise you, come back, walk in and give you a hug.'”
“What she’s known for at the hospital is her attitude and her will,” says Jo. “It was a big deal when they pulled her trach tube out, (which essentially happened by accident), and she could speak again. Her talent is speaking and inspiring people. She inspires everyone who comes into her room. The entire staff connects with her. They come in on their days off to see how she’s doing. They just love her, they take shifts just to be with her.”
But it’s not only the staff who loves Cassidi and the Dente family, Don and Jo’s insurance life eventually led them to USHEALTH Advisors, where over the past few years they have built a new region, and found a new extended family. The Dente’s say the incredible outpouring of love from the USHEATLH Advisors home office and agents since Cassidi’s accident has been overwhelming, and it has helped her to fight.
“There are more questions then there are answers with Cassidi’s condition,” says Jo. “Her grit and her attitude definitely were inspired by the support that was lent to her early on. When she saw the support she got, it led her to fight. When she saw how many people cared about her it made her believe ‘there is something I’m still meant to do. I can still influence, I still have a voice.’
Jo says after therapy Cassidi always asks the staff, “so what can I do today when I go back to my bed to improve? Tell me what to do because I want to move through this.” Jo says the family has a slogan: “Never give up, never surrender. And we say that a lot when the kids complain. Never give up, never surrender, don’t quit, eventually you’ll get it.”
Don says there’s a life philosophy he has learned climbing hills and mountains that he has tried to pass down to his children: “It’s in the climb of life when you learn the most”, says Don. “When you walk down the hill there is no growth or inspiration. Only when you are engaged in the climb and overcome the obstacles. It’s in the challenges of life where you find the opportunity.”
Cassidi is echoing her father’s philosophy as she fights back to improve her situation. Now at the Shepherd Center for Brain and Spinal Injury in Atlanta, Georgia, Cassidi is making strides, partly because of her own internal power and partly because of the generosity, giving and love of so many around her. Don and Jo believe in their daughter’s will and God’s help, to battle and find a way back. And they are buoyed by Cassidi’s continued optimism about her situation and her never-ending desire to give to all those she meets.
It’s a testament to what Don has tried to impart to his children: “I learned some time ago to focus on four words: listen, learn, love, lift. If you do that with everybody you come in contact with, listen to them, learn from them, love them – acknowledge they’re on the planet, say their name, acknowledge they’re alive and then lift them – and if you do that with everyone you meet, then you’re making a difference in the world.”
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
(You can support the Dente family, Cassidi’s recovery effort and future medical expenses by donating to the GoFundMe campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/2swp3858)
More about Mark Brodinsky:
USHEALTH Advisors: http://www.ushagent.com/markbrodinsky
Huffington Post: (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-brodinsky/)
The Profile: (http://www.talkinggood.com/profiles/MarkBrodinsky)
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