My Musical Family - Joy Riggs

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A blog about my family's adventures in making and appreciating music.
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A Valentine to Enduring Friendship

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 2:43pm
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and so often extend beyond the bounds of blood and genes. There are people who are part of your family — even though you will not find them on your family tree — because they have become so entwined in your life, you can’t remember a time when you didn’t know them. You can’t imagine a time they won’t be there, if not present in your daily life, at least out in the world, cheering you on, ready to step in when you need them.

I lost one of those family members this week.

Ron “Dommer” Domschot died on Monday evening, from complications related to pancreatic cancer. He was a retired high school teacher and coach, a devoted husband and father, a proud grandfather, a loyal friend, and so many other things to so many people. He was part of my parents’ lives, and thus a part of mine, for so long that I have forgotten how or when he, his wife, Glee, and my parents first became friends (although I’m sure it goes back to the fact that my parents and Ron all taught at Jefferson High School).

Ron, Glee and their grandchildren, from their 2014 Christmas card.My first memory of the Domschot family goes back to my early elementary school days, when my parents, my brother, Pete, and I lived in a house on Lake Brophy in Alexandria. We had the Domschots over for dinner — Ron, Glee, and their kids Shelly and Mark — and I felt an immediate connection to Shelly, who was my age, because we both loved to read.

When Shelly and I were in junior high, we started a school shopping trip tradition with our moms; they would drive us to Ridgedale, the big shopping center in the suburbs of Minneapolis, and we would spend the day shopping, lunching, and laughing. Some of the laughter resulted in the fact that my mom and Glee were (are) navigationally challenged. We nearly ended up in Wayzata every time (going east off the interstate exit instead of west), until Shelly and I were old enough to drive.

I don’t know what the men folk did back in Alex while we were gone, but I’m sure they were happy not to be included in this particular adventure.

Our families also started a tradition sometime during those years of getting together on Christmas Eve for dinner. We alternated houses each year; when my family hosted, we had spaghetti and meatballs; when the Domschots hosted, we had lasagna. The dinners were, like any get-together with the Domschots, punctuated with laughter, good-natured ribbing, and lively discussion that often included topics related to education. It’s no wonder, really, that Shelly and Mark both ended up being teachers.

I was privileged to have Ron as a social studies teacher when I was in high school. I remember him being funny, engaging, and encouraging — just like he was outside of the classroom. He got even the less-motivated students to pay attention, and to think more deeply about the wide world beyond the borders of our sheltered small town.

The summer after my first year of college, Ron and my dad had their Ridgedale Revenge trip, way beyond the borders of our town, our state, and our country. They traveled with a group of educators to what was then the Soviet Union, during the period of reform under leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It was the trip of a lifetime, and they came back with some amazing stories to share with their families, friends and students.

Shelly and I had a much less interesting, but memorable, trip to the airport to welcome them home. My mom and Glee found their way to the airport on their own (and did not end up in Wayzata), and Shelly and I rode together from Alexandria. On the way, Shelly’s car overheated, and we had to pull over and wait for it to cool down. Somehow, we managed to get to the airport on time.

Shelly with the overheated car.When we arrived, we waited at the gate (this was back before all those security restrictions), and our moms had us hold up a welcome sign, while they cried tears of happiness.


The photo of the returning travelers isn’t the best quality (check out the woman in front on the right!), but the energetic guy who stepped off that plane that day with my dad, eager to share his experiences with his family — that’s the guy I picture when I think of Dommer.

Dad, in the purple shirt, and Ron, in the white shirt, arrive at the gate. As their kids grew up and moved away from home, my parents and the Domschots continued to be there for each other, through good times, like the arrival of grandchildren, and bad times, like my mom’s bout with ovarian cancer 18 years ago, and Ron’s more recent health problems.

Now that Shelly and I are nearly the same age that our dads were when they went on their Ridgedale Revenge trip, I have come to value and appreciate what our parents have modeled for us all these years: the importance of cultivating deep, lasting friendships. They make life much more interesting, and much more rewarding.

It seems fitting that a celebration of Dommer’s life will be held this Saturday, on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. Although his passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of those who loved him, our hearts beat stronger because he was part of our family.
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