A Mother's Message... Five Years Later

Five years ago today, White River teenager Michael Glynn died following a drunk driving crash. It was graduation night, and he was at a party. The last thing his parents told him was to go ahead and have fun, and drink if he wants, but just don’t drive. He drove anyway.

Months later, his mother Joyce contacted me at KELO about doing a news story. At the time she wasn’t exactly sure what the story was, she just wanted to believe her son’s death had meaning. So I told her we would do the interview and find the story from there. KELO photographer Terry “Buddha” Kjergaard and I drove to White River and interviewed Joyce, learning Michael was a star bullrider at rodeos all over the region. He was a very popular kid in his small class and had a nice girlfriend in the grade below him. When it was time to say goodbye, Joyce and Roger Glynn donated Michael’s organs, saving many lives. Joyce said she felt good knowing her son’s heart is still beating somewhere. And she made it her mission to make sure parents take a hard line against teenage drinking, rather than being the “cool” parents and letting it happen. This was the first story that aired back in 2006, which for me started a friendship with Joyce and a connection with the White River community, and the most personal involvement I’ve felt with any story I’ve ever reported:

The day after the story aired, I received a phone call at my desk from a man who said, “My name is Steve, and I want Joyce to know that her son’s heart is still beating.”

As it turns out, Steve Olson at the time was in desperate need of a heart transplant, or he would die. At the time, he had two daughters getting ready for their own high school graduation in Minnesota. Michael’s gift allowed Steve to be there in person. Steve shared his story to Buddha and I at his home in the Twin Cities:

The following spring, we returned to White River to spend time with the ’07 senior class. They’d spent the year mourning the death of their friend Michael, and learning from the consequences. They openly shared with us how Michael’s death changed their lives. And they also helped Joyce in her mission: she challenged each of them to go the whole year without drinking alcohol. And if they made it, she’d pay them each $100. It was a touching moment when she asked everyone who accomplished the goal to stand up. Check it out:

The seniors of ’07 also helped Joyce preserve Michael’s legacy with the first annual Michael Glynn Alcohol-Free graduation party. Buddha and I were honored guests and had a blast:

After our interview with Steve Olson in the Fall 2006, he and Joyce struck up a friendship through letters and phone calls. But she never met the man living with Michael’s beating heart until August 2007, when they met halfway at Olson’s parents’ place in Dawson, MN.  They invited us to be there:

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years. Joyce is now speaking at schools across the region, spreading her message against underage drinking. I would like to thank you, Joyce and Roger, along with Steve Olson for allowing me into your lives in that difficult time and helping tell your story. I still tell it to people I meet from time to time when they ask my most memorable news story. Joyce, I really believe the work you are doing is making a difference, and keeping your son’s memory alive.

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