Overcoming the loss of a family member or loved one is one of the hardest things humans have to do. But sometimes, in those sad and difficult situations, happiness can come from the most unlikely of places, or people.
Just look at Havre High brothers Michael and Ryan Bakke.
Their surprise visit to Montana State University in Bozeman came during a horrific time for the Bakke family. And it was that meet and greet with the Bobcat football program that not only helped jumpstart the healing process, but also presented the brothers with a once in a lifetime memory that would ultimately bring them closer after their terrible loss.
Monday, Aug. 11, 2013, will be a day the Bakke’s remember for the rest of their lives.
At the age of 45, Kris Bakke passed away at the family’s home in Havre after a sudden heart attack. Kris wasn’t just a well-known member of the community, a hunter, a fisherman, and an employee of the city parks; he was also Michael and Ryan’s father. The loss was a devastating blow to the entire Bakke family, but was especially hard on Michael, a junior golfer and basketball player at Havre High, and Ryan, a freshman football and basketball player for the Blue Ponies.
Weeks later though, the Bakke’s were shown the kindness, selflessness and spirit that DeNarius McGhee, MSU’s star quarterback, and the Bobcat football program embodies.
“It was nice to just go hang out,” Michael said. “I am a basketball player, and we also got to go to gym and things like that. And with my brother really getting to enjoy the football part, too, it was just nice to get away from all of the sadness for a while. We all had a reason to be sad of course, but it was nice to get out and have a fun day too. My dad wanted to do something like that with me and my brother for a long time, and we always talked to my uncle Jeff (Bondy) about it, but we just never got around to it.”
Bondy is the associate director of residence life at Montana State University. He is also the reason why Michael and Ryan got to spend an afternoon with the Bobcat football program following the passing of their father, watching practice from the sidelines, touring the campus, and having a sit down conversation with McGhee and Bobcat defensive back James Nelson. The trip was a surprise to Michael and Ryan following a Saturday river float trip just outside of Bozeman.
The two were welcomed with open arms by a very gracious and kind football program.
“At first I didn’t really know what was happening until all the players started lining up,” Ryan said. “Then I got really excited. The coach came out and talked to us, we saw the practice field, we went to the stadium, and we watched a practice. And after practice was when we got to meet all the players. It was exciting and a once in a lifetime thing. It is just crazy to think about what we got to do, I know a lot of people wish they could do something like that.
“I was just surprised,” Michael added about their experience earlier this summer. “It was a rush because I knew I was going to meet some cool football players. I never really knew what to expect. When we sat down and talked to some of them, I thought they were going to be all serious and uptight. But actually it was really relaxed and everybody was fun to be around. And it wasn’t like they were there because they were forced to be there, they were there on their own and that was nice to see.”
The entire team took time to greet Michael and Ryan as they came off the field, but McGhee and Nelson went the extra mile for their young fans.
Both McGhee and Nelson sat down with the Bakke’s for a private conversation, and both were nothing but friendly and filled with compassion toward the two young high school students who were still trying to make sense of what they had just gone through weeks before. Nelson was especially sympathetic to the grieving process and was more than just a football player to the Bakke’s; he was a friend who shared his own experiences.
Nelson shared with Michael and Ryan his own loss, sharing the story of how he too lost his father just five years prior. And sometimes just having someone who has shared a similar experience can go a long way.
“It was nice to have somebody to talk to,” Michael said. “He told us to just stay with it, and he knows what he is talking about because he has been through this. It was nice to have somebody to talk to who understood.”
And Ryan felt the same way.
“He knew what happened to us,” Ryan said. “And he told us about what happened with him. He just talked to us and told us things to help make it better, and he was just really nice to talk to.”
And as memorable as that Saturday was for both Michael and Ryan, it also continues to be a positive experience in their lives.
Both have made lasting friendships with players like Nelson, and continue to grow and bond in a positive way through one of the toughest experiences of their young lives. Both loved their dad dearly, and shared their love of sports and the Bobcats with him from a very young age. But knowing they need to lean on each other now more than ever, both Michael and Ryan continue to grow stronger as brothers since losing their father followed by an opportunity of a lifetime.
“Dad liked the Bobcats and was a fan,” Ryan said. “And floating the river was something he always loved to do too. He also loved the Bobcats, so I know that he would have been happy knowing we got to do that.”
“We have definitely gotten closer for sure,” Michael added. “But not just me and Ryan, we have just gotten closer with family, like our cousin Payton (Bondy). He was with us that day at the practice, too, and I think we have just bonded through this.”
The Bakke’s have since talked to Nelsen several times, and continued to follow the Bobcats season. They also attended the homecoming game against Northern Arizona on Oct. 5 in Bozeman, and if anybody will be watching the Bobcats take on their biggest rival this Saturday in the annual Cat-Griz matchup, it will be Michael and Ryan Bakke. But they won’t just be watching a football team, they will be spending time with friends and family, watching friends and family take the field.
“I have talked to James (Nelson) a few times since, and we still watch all their games on TV,” Ryan said. “And it is more exciting watching their games now because I feel like I know them.”
“It is a lot different watching players like DeNarius now,” Michael added. “It is cooler because we know a lot more about the players now, we know the personal side of them, and that makes it a lot cooler watching them now. It is definitely watching friends play instead of just a team. We will be watching this weekend with family and just hanging out and having snacks. It will be a good day to be with family.”