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They say life starts at the beginning, but that the story of life begins at the end.

February 14, 2015

They say life starts at the beginning, but that the story of life begins at the end.

For those of you who might not be aware, I was stuck last week with what is most certainly the knockout punch in my nearly three-year fight with cancer. So while I still have some time left, I wanted to thank some people who’ve brought me so much joy and happiness.

Writing, for me, has always been a joy and, in the face of cancer, a release of sorts. I got it from my mother, who in her own right had a way of blending emotion and language to convey her thoughts and feelings. On the eve of my college graduation she wrote me a letter, in her own hand, on one of those Big Chief tablets, aka John Boy Walton. It was on that night that I knew the source of this joyous skill that would carry me on a 35-year journey to report the news and tell the story of agriculture.

To my mother Amelia, thank you for a mother’s love, helping me study, preparing wonderful meals and believing in me when I sometimes doubted myself. I love you mom. Everything will be fine.

While I love her dearly, as children my sister Tammy and I always seemed to be at odds. So much so that she often confused the function of a broom as a household cleaning tool with some medieval weapon of war. After much product testing, she finally settled on a lime green plastic baseball bat, shaped like a board, called the FUNGO. She would use the FUNGO to administer many a brutal counterattack. All such beatings were well deserved because it seems I spent much of my childhood tormenting her. Those battles and the make-up playtimes that followed were some of my fondest memories growing up at 2335 Richmond Street in Baker. Thank you Tammy for all you’ve done for me and all you will do for the family I leave behind.

Every family has that one member we can all count on no matter what. In the Danna family it’s my dad’s younger sister Aunt Rose. Nannie is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. Throughout my life she was there for me, with an encouraging word, a $20 bill or just a hug that said things will be OK. Nannie, the world is a much better place because of you.

Growing up on Richmond Street in the 1960s and ‘70s was a time of pure joy; an endless summer of Frisbees, Schwinn bikes, footballs, model building, Kool Aid and peanut butter sandwiches. Two of my closest friends on that working class strip of asphalt were Bobby Hilburn and his brother Greg. The Hilburn family opened their lives to me and their house was a second home for me nearly all of my formative years. It was a world of G.I. Joes, Dr Pepper, shooting pool and crunchy peanut butter sandwiches. Thank you Bobby and Greg for sharing your G.I. Joes and your lives with me.

One of the smartest kids I ever knew growing up was Ed Breckwoldt. The son of an engineer, Ed and I grew up together across Plank Road. Our mothers used to joke that we were friends before we were born. Ed and I spent our teen years working on crazy science projects, bird hunting, riding around in his mom’s big 1968 Impala and camping and hiking along the nearby streams. I don’t get to see Ed much these days because he lives in Norfolk. But our times together back then were some of the most memorable of my life. Thanks Ed.

Growing up in an Italian-French household taught me the true meaning of family. Never did I dream I would one day work for a company where family would be valued above all else. The Louisiana Farm Bureau is such a company and when I said my prayers a night I always thanked God for allowing me to have spent the last 30 years there. To all my fellow employees at 9516 Airline Highway I say thanks for sharing your careers, lives and families with me.

Today families come in all shapes and sizes. Such is the case with the Couvillon, Hafford, Bossier, Kimball and Hotard families of which I married into on my 53rd birthday last year. They are some of the finest, loving, caring people you’ll ever meet and I’m grateful for our time together. It saddens me we won’t get to spend more holidays and birthdays with one another.

To the mother of my children, I have few words to describe the joy Carla Verbois brought to my life. She gave me Chase and Taylor, two of the most wonderful children on earth. And while things didn’t work out for us, we never stopped loving each other or our children. I know she and her husband Pete will do their best to see that our children are happy and healthy.

To the physician who cared for me over the last three years, I want you to know you did everything you could. Dr. Gerald Miletello is a gifted oncologist who for the last 35 years has cared for cancer patients with competence and compassion. His team of physicians and nurses are some of the finest caregivers anywhere. To Gerald, Janan, Peggy Jo, Missy, Tammy, Camille, Buffy, Connie, Ruthie and Bev, thanks for all you did for me.

One of the great joys of my Saturday mornings for the last 20 years was the time I spent with the BAMMER’s Coffee Group. Made up of reporters, P.R. professionals, attorneys, editors, a veterinarian, businesswomen and a former governor, our meetings at the Books-A-Million (hence BAM, aka BAMMER’s) bookstore on Corporate Blvd in Baton Rouge was always a rich blend of debate, infused with a warm helping of love and respect we had for each other. To each of you, Jim, Julie, Bill, Darin, Bob, Lisa, Bill, Larry, Norma, Malcolm, Doc, Sloan, Cindy, Veronica, Nell, Bobby, Avery, Nancy, Buddy and all those who have gone ahead, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives. The coffee wasn’t always stellar but the company was always delicious.

I never dreamed I’d spend a lifetime telling the story of agriculture, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how wonderful Louisiana’s farmers and ranchers are. Up before the dawn, working late into the evening is just what they do, day in, day out. The friendships I’ve made with these farmers over the last 30 years have been a gift from God in their own right. There are so many, but to Marty, Mike, Greg, Hank, Richard, Butch, Cecil, Linda, Jim, Fred, Dane, Ryan, Kenny, Carlos, Joey, Gary and my dear friends Gene and Scott, I say thanks for allowing me to tell the world your story.

Even before I’d ever heard of the Farm Bureau there was a man from Ethel destined to change the face of Louisiana agriculture. I served Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson for 25 years and few will ever understand the sacrifices he made on behalf of the state’s farmers and ranchers. The long flights, the living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time, the late-night meetings, knowing he had to be up with the sun to work his cows. Ronnie, to you, your wife Vivian and your wonderful family, thank you for your sacrifice and for allowing me and Renee to be a part of your lives and family.

When I returned to LSU in the summer of 1980 and first walked the halls of the journalism school, I was blessed to foster friendships that would last a lifetime. As I’ve often told my children, everyone has friends, but few of us have true friends; those you can call in the middle of the night and they’ll be there for you. Steve Stewart, Mark Chambers, Penny Heuiser, John Hart and Keith Matulich are just such friends. They’ve been there for me every step of the way for the last 35 years and it’s meant the world to me in ways I can’t describe. I love each of you.

Last week two of my closest friends in the Farm Bureau, Wendell Miley and Carey Martin, staged a spiritual intervention on my behalf. It was the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced. They told me they were concerned for my eternal soul and what these two men did for me can never be repaid. Their prayers have guaranteed me a spot in heaven for all eternity. Carey, I have been, and forever shall be your friend. Wendell, the time Renee and I spent with you and Michelle in Hawaii was one of the happiest times of my life.

To the TWILA Team, Neil, A.J., Avery, Kristen, Taylor, Monica and Holly, I say thanks for all you did for me and for our organization. You are brilliant, wonderful story tellers, talented beyond reproach. Your stories are the most important ever told, stories of those who work the land, raise the livestock and cut the timber that feed, clothe and house the world. There is no more noble profession on earth. Thank you for continuing to tell their story to the world. Never stop filling up the map.

Few of us can say our boss is also our best friend. But for the last 30 years Jim Monroe has been that to me; my best friend and more. He’s one of the smartest men I know and I’ve been honored that he gave me every opportunity at success. Jim and I have traveled the world with the LSU AgLeadership Development Program and there’s no one I’d rather have seen the farming world with than you Jim. Our body of work from those trips are the stories I’m most proud of. Thanks to you and Connie for allowing Renee and I to share our lives with you.

To my children Chase and Taylor, I want you to know that daddy loves you more than life itself. I’m so proud of each of you and want you to know that dad will always be with you. I know you’ll do your best to take care of each other, love each other and never forget all the great times we had. You have been a gift from God and I’m going to thank Him personally when I see Him.

Even before Renee and I married I was blessed with two other children, Dillon Couvillon and Nick LaCour. They’re both products of their mother’s character, love and grace. No two finer young men will you find anywhere. Thank you both for allowing me to share in your mother’s life and thanks for all the great times we had.

Finally, to my wonderful wife Renee; sweetheart, you cared for me in ways many can’t comprehend. You did it with an unwavering commitment to the man you loved and all I can say is thank you and God bless you. It saddens me to have to leave you now, but I know your faith will carry and comfort you all the rest of your days. I love you.

While I’ve spent my life writing on deadline, this story is without doubt the most urgent. I know my time here is short, but my reward will be an eternity. So I won’t say farewell, but rather good-bye for now. It won’t be long before I’ll see you all again on the other side.

 

-30-

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Kimmy Dobson Netterville permalink
    February 14, 2015 11:19 am

    Mike Danna it’s been 37 years since you made me cry but I’m definitely crying now. It sounds like you’re about to embark on your biggest adventure yet. And what an incredible legacy you leave behind. Cheers to you my old friend!

  2. Jenne Farr permalink
    February 14, 2015 12:49 pm

    Mike, Your writing has brought much joy to many people. Thank you for sharing this wonderful gift. God bless you and your family.

  3. Rudi Spruell permalink
    February 14, 2015 1:20 pm

    Mike, these are beautiful thoughts and words. Though we did not know each other well, beyond being scout dads, I am glad for the knowing of you.

    If your passing must be, then I pray that it will be gentle, and in the company of those who know and love you best. May God bless you, and those you will leave behind! For there to be a sense of loss, that which is lost must be cherished. I know that you have been, so I pray for their strength and comfort, as they adjust to this change.

    Say Hey! to The Big Guy, as you blaze the path, and I look to see you down the trail somewhere.

    Peace and Love
    Rudi Spruell

  4. Martha Jackson hogan permalink
    February 14, 2015 1:22 pm

    You are so brave God bless you from your 1978 Baker high school classmate

  5. Howard Arceneaux permalink
    February 14, 2015 1:58 pm

    Mike, thank you for showing me the ropes in our days covering the westside. Your passion for life and love are a wonderful legacy for all whose lives you touched. God be with you on your journey, my friend.

  6. Sissy Ford permalink
    February 14, 2015 2:30 pm

    God bless you your family and your many many friends. You touched my heart today. I’ll keep you all in my prayers.
    Rev and Mrs Paul Ford

  7. Kay Paschal permalink
    February 14, 2015 3:08 pm

    Beautifully written, such an amazing man and writer. You will be missed by The Farm Bureau Family. I will not say good-bye…..just UNTIL. May God bless you and your family Mike.

  8. Jeff Sistrunk permalink
    February 14, 2015 4:28 pm

    Mike, for years I’ve watched you and the other members of the TWILA team on tv. And it wasn’t until I met an married a young an amazing woman by the name of Katie Ramagos, that I was able to meet an get to know yourself and the rest of the amazing people in Farm Bureau. I just wanted to say that even though I’ve only known you for a short time sir it been both an honor and a privilege. Katie, myself and the Ramagos family have and will continue to keep you an your family in our thoughts and prayers.
    Sincerely,
    Jeff Sistrunk

  9. February 14, 2015 5:57 pm

    Mike it has been a pleasure working with you for the past 30 years!! You have inspired me and I have a lot of respect for you! It has been an honor to call you my friend! I will be praying for you and your family. Tena Krumholt

  10. yvonne cappe permalink
    February 14, 2015 6:51 pm

    Mike, though you’ll be leaving us soon for the next life adventure, your words, your love, and your character will continue to shine and support those left here waiting to see you again. Go peaceably with confidence.
    Yvonne Cappe

  11. Dana Kahn permalink
    February 15, 2015 10:35 am

    Mike, I am not sure if you realize the profound affect you have on people. I was a 19 year old girl scared of ruining her grandfather’s legacy and you were so gentle, kind and wise. You taught me how to write, layout and produce quality news. I often felt so sorry for you coming into the West Side Journal being run by 1 woman and 2 young girls who hadn’t a clue what they were doing. You had to teach us the very basics of news starting with computer layout. I will never forget when you found me cutting out each story with an exacto knife and cement glue due to the fact I had no idea how to use the computer program. You just chuckled with that deep radio voice and said, “I am about to make your day, watch”. You transformed our little newspaper into something to we were very proud of. You were our knight in shining armor and I swear you were an angel my grandfather sent to us. We would have never made it without you. Throughout my life when I talk about the Journal you are always a part of it. I know I told you thank you, mainly because I prayed my admiration would keep you from every leaving us ;). However, I am not sure if you know the magnitude of gratefulness I had for you. My grandfather was my world, and to disappoint him or fail him in any way was just not fathomable. So again I will say, thank you though those words are simply too small to truly convey my gratitude. The world will be a little dimmer without your amazing talent and sweet soul in it. Thanks again for saving us, I am sure my grandfather will be one of the first in line to shake your hand and thank you in heaven. I wish peace and happiness.
    Sincerely,
    Dana Young Kahn

  12. Rick Hazey permalink
    February 22, 2015 1:20 pm

    Mike,

    Just know that your words and deeds have left a positive mark on the world. You’re a class act my friend that can’t be forgotten and you’ll be sorely missed.

    Peace.

  13. John Walter permalink
    February 22, 2015 3:15 pm

    Mike, I didn’t hear until yesterday about your very sad news. I hadn’t seen you on TWiLA for a couple weeks and I hoped you were just taking a bit of time off. For someone I have never met, I am going to miss you a great deal.

    I am so very sorry for your news.

    Your hosting of TWiLA made agriculture in general and Louisiana agriculture in particular more understandable and showed its importance to people remote from farming and Louisiana like myself.

    Your courage and grace showing in your blog is an inspiration.

    You are in my prayers. Best to you and your family.

  14. katty shaw permalink
    February 25, 2015 3:45 pm

    You are an inspiration to all who love and know you and others like me who just know of you. You are all in God’s hands. Thank you for the courage, faith and heart you have shared with anyone who is reading your story. Prayers for peace as you move toward the place we live our lives to be. Eagle’s wings shall carry you.

  15. February 28, 2015 8:17 am

    Faith in God and life will bring miracles. I’m glad the story ends beautifully.

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