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  • Paula Sangeleer

Honoring My Buddy, Nathan Silpath

I want to tell you about my friend, Nathan Silpath.

I met Nathan in 2011 at the "Help Our Kids" radiothon, which my company at the time did every single year to raise money for the kids in the hospital, for stuff that insurance didn't cover.

This was the first year that Nathan was our billboard ambassador. His picture was up there on the billboard and everyone, especially Nathan thought that was really cool. He was just 9 or 10 years old at the time, and he had cancer.

You wouldn't know it though.

When I first met him, his smile, his energy, he was so vibrant, it was contagious. And he was a prankster too, which I really appreciated. So, we became buddies right away, and I became friends with his mom. She's my age and an amazing woman and we just love to see each other every single year, and sometimes in between their radiothons as well.

Nathan played sled hockey, he did tractor pulls, he chased storms, he loved fishing, and NASCAR. And most of all, he wanted to help other kids who also had cancer. He even started a nonprofit organization. If you want to find out more about that, it's at You can read more about Nathan there.

My side of the story with Nathan, is this: the radiothons that we did were very intense. My boss at the time, Steve Monz, is a master at bringing out the best in people. He taught us how to express ourselves in a genuine way. Do that so that you could be emotional on the air and people would be inspired to give, and yes, there were tears from time to time that and they were real.

The broadcast experience was definitely a career highlight and reminded us all why we do what we do, which is to help others--just because we can--that's why we do it. And also to entertain to try to bring some fun and smiles to people, especially in this case who aren't feeling well, kids.

You know, it's pretty intense. And we all gain a new perspective, every single time after the radiothon, as to what's really important. Most things in life really aren't; we worry about a lot of stuff that's just not important.

Now, at the radiothons, Nathan and his mom would always come on the last day of the broadcast to be part of the end finale, when we did the big reveal of the total money raised. It was always joyous and very exciting. Then when it was done, I would take them back to the catering area where patients were not allowed. They weren't supposed to go there. But we made it sort of a let sneak backstage adventure. And it was all in good fun!

We'd hang out and talk for a while and decimate a cookie tray or two. We had so much fun throughout the year between the radiothons, too, Nathan and his mom would head out on day trips to go fishing or storm chasing. They would call my show every time they were out and they'd request AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," or Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive." And sometimes, for Nathan, I think if he was feeling a little mellow, "Wheel in the Sky" by Journey. It was my joy and pleasure to play their requests every single time.

I know that brought him some, you know, some fun for part of his day.

Sometimes, they would come by the station and hang out, and Nathan loved to go on the air. And we'd love to have him on the air. He was tons of fun. One time, he told me, "Paula, I want to do radio." And while normally I don't recommend that, I was looking forward to walking him through it, if he really wanted to do that. I thought, "Wow, maybe we could give him his first job. That would be pretty cool."

I mean, the kid beat cancer three times. No reason to think that he wouldn't be here forever, right? Nathan, one of the toughest people I ever met. He did it all with a giggle and a smile, and it's pretty cool to associate with somebody like that.

Alright, people like me love to say, "no regrets." Lessons learned, all part of the story, had some fun.

Well, I do have a regret.

In 2017, at the end of the radiothon that year, it was time to leave. I was tired. It was raining. I had a long drive ahead of me. And we had done all the things we normally did, with the talking and the cookies and all of that. And I hugged Nathan and his mom. And then Nathan said to me, "Paula, do you want to come up to the roof with me and see the healing garden?"

And I said, "I do but I've got to get going. Let's do it next time, OK?"

And Nathan looked at me, kind of gave me a side eye, and he said, "OK." Just like that. And I thought, you know, it was as if he knew. But I thought, "This kid's not going anywhere. He's probably tired too?"

Well, I wasn't paying attention. That's my regret. A few months after that, we heard that Nathan wasn't doing well, that he was in the hospital again. Steve and a few of us had planned to go up and see him. You know, bring some ice cream, act goofy, cheer him up. Things that we love to do. And we probably thought we can fix the whole thing, right?

The day before we were due to make that trip, it just happened to be my birthday. Nathan was just shy of his 17th birthday. And he had passed the day before. I miss him.

As I record this, today, would be Nathan's 20th birthday.

You know what? I've been chasing rock stars for years. That's no secret. But I finally figured out what a rock star really is: a rock star is someone who makes you feel like a rock star. Nathan was a rock star. We can all be rock stars. Think about that.

Here's some advice you didn't ask for: don't worry about dumb shit. Most things in life aren't that important.

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