Walk will honor girls unconquerable spirit
By MELANIE AVE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2001
TAMPA -- Those who knew her say Deanne "Dee" Wolf was the kind of child every parent dreams of raising, every teacher wants in class, every teenager hopes to befriend.
Teacher Lucy O'Regan said, "Whoever she touched, wherever she went she became very important. Once you met her you never forgot."
Her parents, her teachers and her friends said Dee left an amazing legacy at the school she adored, one of kindness, compassion and spirit. It continues more than a year after her death from Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. She was 16, a sophomore.
Tiffany Bragg, a student who had never even met Dee, has organized a second benefit walk-a-thon today to raise money in Dee's honor.
Funds raised will be given to Riverview students like Dee who face adversity yet continue contributing to the school.
"Whenever she had to go to treatment for her leukemia or Hodgkin's, she still maintained a 4.0 and went to swim practice," Bragg said. "She never complained. She was just like, "I'll do the best I can.' "
Dee's parents, David and Debbie Wolf of Riverview, said they always knew their only child was special. But it wasn't until after her death that they realized the amazing effect she had on others.
Dozens of classmates wrote letters and called them about times Dee had gone out of her way to encourage them, cheer them up or make them feel welcome at school. More than 500 students attended her memorial service.
"She loved life, everything about it," Mrs. Wolf said.
The day after Dee's initial diagnosis with Hodgkin's her freshman year, she went to a school car wash.
"She was laughing and playing," said David Wolf, a Tampa police patrol officer. "She was going to beat it."
Dee was so excited about attending Riverview and being a part of the swim team that she showed up weeks before the school opened in 1998 to help unpack boxes and file folders.
"She was a dream person," said swimming coach Jeff Northington. "Nice, sweet, do anything for anybody."
Dee still holds the school's record for the 100-yard backstroke.
The school planted a magnolia off the courtyard and placed a marker in front of it with the words "Dee's Tree." A memorial of her life in pictures, report cards and ribbons stands in the school's office.
"She was just a sweet kid," said school secretary Robin Capone. "There's 2,600 kids here and none compares to her. And my son is here, but I'm sorry, it's true. She was different somehow."
After Dee received chemotherapy and radiation for Hodgkin's, she was declared in remission. A few months later, tests showed she had leukemia. She had a bone marrow transplant, but later the Hodgkin's returned with a large mass on her brain stem.
"When I went home at night, she was brought up in our dinner conversations," Capone said. "My family knew about her. She won't be forgotten."
Though she had been told there was no longer any hope in beating the cancer, Dee was determined to attend last year's first walk-a-thon. But she died two weeks before the walk in her honor. About 600 people turned out and raised more than $15,000.
Even as she was dying, her parents said she was encouraging others. The last day of her life, she was joking with her father how she was going to "suck up to God" to get the best jobs.
"She had a mission on Earth," Mrs. Wolf said. "She fulfilled it."
The walk-a-thon is 9 a.m. to noon at J. Vince Thompson Stadium, 11311 Boyette Road in Riverview.
- Melanie Ave covers education and can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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