The Dohnal Family

Whenever I think of the Dohnals, I always think of the movie Parenthood. In particular, I think of the woman whose daughter was dating Keanu Reeves and whose son (Joaquim Phoenix) is in a bit of trouble. So much drama in that household in the movie - now multiply that into 2 daughters, and 3 sons, and you get an idea of the Dohnal household - mass chaos all the time. (And Jean Dohnal sounded, and even looked a lot like that mom in the movie) The reason I know it was similar is - I slept on their couch - a lot. For years on end it seems I would fly into Milwaukee or drive or get dropped off somehow at their house and I would either sleep on the couch out front or on the floor in David's room. They'd feed me and talk to me and make me do chores. Honestly I felt like one of the kids - just slightly better behaved - as befits a guest.

Bob (Mr. Dohnal) would ask me to shovel or clean something and I would do it - and then all the other kids would laugh at me - "You're actually going to DO it?" They'd say incredulously.  One time, because Bob found out I was an 'engineer' he asked me to fix a light switch. I did so, but when I put in the new one, I reversed the wires, and for years I get hell for the basement light switch where 'down was on, up was off'.

Growing up in a strict household where you didn't contradict your parents, it was absolutely stunning to me that these kids had so much freedom to mouth off and disobey - and in my earlier years, for a while, I thought in some weird smug yet jealous way, "these kids are going to turn out all bad..."

Let's see - David (Slacker) has done multiple duties in Iraq for the US military and will return home to his new bride in Alaska.

Brett and Kevin have both earned significant promotions in the military and are officers of significant stature and travel the world.

Cari is married and living a great outdoorsly life in Durango Colorado, and Darcie is a doctor with several beautiful children. She also won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and we traveled together for years on the world team.

So - why did they do it? Why did they feed and ferry some kid around they hardly knew (at first) back and forth to competitions? What prompts this kind of rewardless charity from parents with a large brood who are trouble enough on their own to take on multiple other kids as well and care for them? Why were those kids so nice to me?

I don't exactly know, but they have set the gold standard. I do also know, that my continued skating during my college years, while living in California, was significantly contingent upon my ability to come stay at their house again and again, for years on end, to compete in those meets. And without that continued exposure to the sport and quality competitions, I would have never have made an Olympic team.

Thank you Bob. Thank you Jean. Thank you Slacker and Darcie and Cari and Kevin and Brett. Maybe it seems small to you - but you all have had a big impact on my life.