Finding peace at a Nebraska lake | VailDaily.com

Finding peace at a Nebraska lake

The Dusty Boot Steakhouse & Saloon and the Andrew Claymon family would like to thank the community for its support in raising funds to help Andrew in his fight against cancer. Both the Beaver Creek and the Eagle Ranch Dusty Boot restaurants were packed March 3 during this fundraising event, where more than $1,000 was raised. If you were not able to make it and would still like to make a contribution, there is an "Andrew Claymon Fund" set up at FirstBank.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Andrew Claymon spent his last days surrounded by family and friends, at the place he loved best in the world.

Claymon, 16, died Monday at his grandparents’ home in Arnold, Neb., after an 18-month battle with a rare form of cancer.

“He died peacefully, surrounded by his family,” family friend Nora Murbach said Andrew’s mother, Joni, told her.

Before going to his grandparents’ home a few days ago, the Claymons had parked the family camper just feet from the shores of Merritt Reservoir in north-central Nebraska and had spent several weeks there, fishing, boating and enjoying each other’s company. Andrew even spent some time working in the bait shop at the lake.

In the family’s last lengthy post on http://www.carepages.com, a blog site hosted by Children’s Hospital in Denver, they wrote how much Andrew loved being at the reservoir:

“It gives us so much peace to know that Andrew is exactly where he wants to be. The camper is parked about 25 feet from the lake and Andrew has a beautiful view of the lake outside of his bedroom window. On this earth, there is nowhere else he would want to be right now.”

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That last lengthy post goes into a lot of other detail, including Andrew waking suddenly, then saying he’d “talked to God,” and that it wasn’t yet time for him to go.

Karen Simon said it was the courage to write in such detail that drew so many people to Andrew’s story on carepages.com. As of Monday, his blog had nearly 1,250 visitors.

“Joni and (Andrew’s father) Mike are just incredibly warm people,” said Simon, the director of the Vail Valley Charitable Fund. “And it takes an incredible amount of strength to write the way they did.”

That willingness to share their story helped others, Simon said.

“I think everybody learned something about life from his Care Pages,” she said. “No one could walk away without being affected, without knowing they have to appreciate life every day.”

Besides the courage to blog their feelings, family friend Valerie Wass said Andrew’s personality continued to shine, even as his body was ravaged by disease.

“He’s just a great kid,” Wass said.

Murbach, who’s known Joni and Mike Claymon since before they were married, said Andrew came by his own spirit naturally.

“They’re just a normal, everyday, good family with rock-solid Nebraska values,” Murbach said.

The community responded to that. And the family and their closest friends are forever grateful, Murbach said.

“This is just an amazing community we live in,” she said. “It’s the community support that’s allowed them to do what they needed to do.”

That community support continues this evening with “Life Unrehearsed: The Audition,” a dance performance by local high school and college students at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. The performance will raise money for the Claymons, as well as the families of Thomas Walsh and Luke Dillon, who are fighting their own battles with cancer.

“Kids came up to me last May and said ‘Our friends are sick, and we want to help,'” event organizer Rayla Kundolf said.

Last year’s show raised $12,000 for the families, and Kundolf said she hopes this year’s show can raise even more.

Contacted after a day of rehearsal, Kundolf said tonight’s show will now have some bittersweet moments.

“But the show goes on – and it’s for the families,” Kundolf said.

And in the end, Andrew left this world the way he entered it – surrounded by those who love him most. And, in his last days, he was at the place he loved most, too.

“We should all be so lucky,” Murbach said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.