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Local charity surpasses $1M mark in unique fashion

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Scott Kruse, at left, co-chair of the 18 Fore Life charity, sits alongside cancer survivor and friend, Mark Hobgood, who was recently the recipient of the one millionth dollar given away in love offerings by the foundation.
Mark Hobgood and Ben Kruse were the best of friends. They were born four days apart, with Ben being Mark's senior. They shared an unassuming nature and a sense of mischief that seemed to work well on and off the ball diamond and the basketball court as they made their way through the Dexter School system in the 1990s. The two could not have known where their friendship would take them two decades later.

Ben Kruse lost his life tragically in an ATV accident in August 2004.

"I was in Dallas at the time," Hobgood, now 36, recalls. "I just couldn't believe it."

Neither could a community that had seen the handsome, fun-loving Kruse grow up to be a responsible, hard-working adult, still with that mischievous grin that won so many hearts in his brief lifetime.

It is in Ben Kruse's memory that the 18 Fore Life Charity Golf event is now held annually. Ben and his brother, Scott, began the charity with a group of friends in 2000, and following his loss, the charity took on Ben's name.

At the charity's recent annual banquet, it was noted that the foundation was very close to giving away their millionth dollar in the form of $1,000 love offerings to cancer patients. It was expected that by August or September, the dream of the organization's founders would become a reality.

The milestone, however, came in a matter of days following the tournament, and in a form that no doubt, would have made Ben proud.


It was just before Christmas Day 2012 that Mark Hobgood began to experience pain that would eventually lead to a cancer diagnosis.

"I'd been wrestling with my son, Ethan. He was 11 at the time, and he jarred me pretty good. Within a day or two, I had quite a bit of pain in my leg and in the groin area. I was a person who had never been ill -- never went to the doctor. From the symptoms, I thought maybe I had kidney stones.

A trip to a Poplar Bluff urgent care center could not confirm Mark's problem, but since it was so close to Christmas and there was a shortage of diagnostics being performed so close to the holiday, he was prescribed pain medication and was sent home.

Hobgood worked as a manager at Poplar Bluff's Applebees Restaurant. After a couple sleepless nights and a shift at the restaurant on Christmas Eve, he went to the Emergency Room at Poplar Bluff. The pain had gotten severe. That Christmas Eve, Mark's life would be forever changed. He was told he had cancer.

"They couldn't tell me at first what type of cancer I had," Hobgood explains. "They did a CAT scan and saw a tumor in the lymph nodes in my back that had been spreading. It took nearly a month for them to determine that it was Stage 2 seminoma -- the same type of testicular cancer that Lance Armstrong had."

The news hit the always-healthy 36-year-old hard. A month's wait would follow while physicians decided upon the most appropriate treatment path to follow.

"A couple days after I was diagnosed, I still didn't know what was going on - where this would go. So, I went to see Ben. I first visited my grandmother's gravesite, and then Ben's. I needed my friend to talk to. Ben just always handled obstacles with such style and grace - like all the Kruse family. I told him he was going to have to help me out, and I asked him to help me handle things the way he would have."

Time off work and medical expenses were already beginning to take an emotional and a financial toll on Hobgood, but he felt a sense of relief after the visit with his childhood friend.

"A cancer diagnosis changes your entire perspective," Hobgood reflects. "You suddenly realize the things that are truly important in life."

The day after Mark visited the gravesites, he opened his mailbox to find a check in the amount of $1,000 from 18 Fore Life.

"It was like confirmation that Ben really was looking out for me," he says. "I honestly didn't know enough about the charity to realize that they actually gave away love offerings of $1,000 to cancer victims. I was blown away."


"I wanted something done right then, but it took awhile," he explains. "In the restaurant industry, everything is right now, right now -- the doctors just didn't seem to be in as big a hurry as I was."

Eventually, Mark met with an expert in the area of testicular cancer and was referred to a Cape Girardeau physician who had worked with the Barnes physician. Three rounds of chemotherapy were prescribed, beginning in early February.

The chemo took its toll on the young man who always prided himself on his overall good health and athleticism.

"It was rough," he says. "I ended up in the hospital after the first week with mouth sores and fever. I stayed for about five or six days and had to miss one round of chemo.

It was early May before the treatments ended and surgery followed. The only obvious sign of treatments was the typical hair loss which in recent days has begun to return. Endurance is coming back, he says. After being off work since Christmas Eve 2012, he returned to Applebees on June 12 for his first half-day of work.



One of the many unique ways that 18 Fore Life raises money for cancer patients, in addition to the charity golf event on the first Saturday in June, is through the sale of desk plaques. The idea came from Kerry Gilbow, a friend of the Kruse brothers. The plaques, which are individually engraved bearing the purchaser's name, come at a cost of $1,000 each. Only 100 will be crafted, and over the past year, almost half that amount have been sold. When an individual purchases a desk plaque, that purchaser designates on the order the name of the cancer patient they wish to honor with a $1,000 donation in the name of the charity.

When the dust settled from this year's event and the funds were added up, it became clear that the one millionth dollar mark was coming sooner than expected.

"We wrote out checks to several people whose names we'd been holding until more funds came in from the tournament," explains Scott Kruse, "and we realized when we were done that we were within three thousand dollars of reaching that milestone."

In short order, Scott and Kerri Kruse realized they had yet to tally in the plaque donations recently received. When the counting was done, and the $1,000 love offering was about to be sent, they opened a plaque order from local businessman, Alan Hedrick, with the designated recipient as none other than Mark Hobgood. It would be the second love offering for Hobgood, made possible through Hedrick's generosity.

"It was perfect," says Kruse looking back at the situation. "We've had so many amazing stories that have come out of this charity, but this one was one of the best. To be able to present the check that put us over the top to Ben's good friend -- well, let's just say it was a very good day."

Mark Hobgood agrees and says it's time to go have another talk with his friend -- this time to say, "Thanks for listening."

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