The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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Merril Hoge has endured his share of hardships.

In 1994, Hoge, then a running back for the Chicago Bears, suffered his second concussion in as many months and was forced to retire. Following the second concussion, Hoge laid on a training table in the Bears' locker room and nearly died, going into cardiac arrest and flat-lining before being resuscitated. He spent the next two days in the intensive care unit before returning home, and to this day still suffers from the effects of those concussions, sometimes experiencing headaches, pain from bright lights and concentration issues.

However, at Ole’ Zim’s Wagon Shed in Gibsonburg, the attendants of the Ninth Annual Parker's Purpose fundraising dinner learned that was not Hoge's greatest challenge.

801ParkersPurpose1
Merril Hoge

Nine years later, Hoge received incredibly sobering news when he was diagnosed with stage II Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He faced cancer with the same mindset and perseverance that helped take him from Pocatello, Idaho to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he played for seven seasons before joining the Bears for a year. Hoge was inspired to fight the disease for his then 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, and he did so by staying true to his motto, "Find a way."

Fighting cancer also gave him a chance to reflect on how to parent his children.

"The doctor said to me, 'I can't guarantee (the treatment) is going to work.' I still can't articulate how dark that day was," Hoge, 51, said. "I spoke to my son, and then my daughter came over and told me that I needed to find a way (to beat cancer). Dying was not an option. I was inspired by a 9-year-old to take a different approach. I was going to have an uncommon approach. I love being a dad. That experience led me to gaining patience and perspective as a parent. I learned to judge my kids by the yardsticks of their life, not mine."

Hoge, determined to defeat cancer, endured the 10-hour chemotherapy treatments, recalling how he once received an injection from his nurse while she was dressed in the kind of gear you'd expect to see someone wearing at a nuclear facility. It was at home where he continued to train and work out like he always had, and ultimately "found a way" to force his cancer into remission.

It was that same fight and determination which helped Hoge, whose idol was Walter Payton, to be a solid running back in a league filled with faster athletes. A dual-threat out of the backfield, Hoge, who said that his 40-yard dash time was usually somewhere between 4.7 and 4.8 seconds, accumulated 5,272 yards of total offense (3,139 rushing; 2,133 receiving) and 34 touchdowns during his career.


Over $180,000 raised
Needless to say, Hoge was honored to speak at an event for an organization that has raised over $180,000 for 200 families since 2008. The money goes to families in financial crisis due to a sick or disabled child.

“I am humbled beyond belief,” added Hoge, who has worked for the last 20 years as an NFL analyst for ESPN. “This is an incredible community. What Parker has done to give back and serve others. That’s powerful enough. I'm honored to be here. But I want you to know that I’m taken aback by this community, the people in this room, and I’m honored to be with this community, Parker, and his mother, Patti.”

The previous seven speakers for the Fremont-based charity — Dan "Rudy" Ruettiger, Desmond Howard, Chris Spielman, Rocky Bleier, Jim Tressel, Eddie George, Archie Griffin — all had something unique to offer, but Hoge's personal struggles resonated with the audience.

"I thought it went really well, I thought Merril hit it out of the park. His story was pretty remarkable. Everyone has been afflicted by cancer — if you don't have a friend or family member that's been afflicted by cancer, you're in a small group. That's something everyone can relate to," said Todd Drusback, the president of Parker's Purpose. "I thought his story would be strong, but I didn't anticipate the message would be as strong as it was. I was confident, but I didn't know it would be this good."

It appears as though the event was a financial success, too.

"It was one of our better auctions, that's for sure. Everything else went well. Fundraising-wise it was pretty good, profit wise, we probably hit around $35,000. I'm guessing that's what it's going to be," said Drusback, who works as a teacher and football coach at Rossford High School. "If you just want to go from a straight amount of money — ticket sales, donations, you're probably talking something like $60,000, which gives you an indication of what people spent.

"I think the special thing is the core group (of supporters) that we have. That's the neat thing about the auction. It's an annual celebration of everyone getting together to support Parker's cause, and it's just continuing to gain momentum. I think we've got a really good core of support, individuals that will support us no matter who our speaker is; there's a core that gets it. I'm really excited for the future."

The charity is named for Parker Inks, 17, a junior at St. Joseph Central Catholic in Fremont. Inks, who was diagnosed with Congenital muscular dystrophy at six months, started the organization eight years ago after a 30-day stay in the hospital with respiratory problems. The community came together and raised money to help pay the hospital bills, and the leftover funds were used to help advance the cause of helping others.

"Parker's doing really well. He's doing well health-wise, he's going to be a senior, and it's remarkable to think about in 2008 when he's battling for his life and now he's thriving," Drusback said. "He's making the honor roll and doing well. He's more involved now, and he's pretty integral (in working with the organization), which is cool. He's definitely giving feedback and he's definitely more a part of it."

The young man was recently a recipient of the prestigious Prudential Spirit of Community Award, something given to two teenagers in each state for extensive volunteer work. For his efforts, Inks, who was nominated by SJCC superintendent Tim Cullen, received $1,000 and took a trip to Washington, D.C. In addition to his work with Parker's Purpose, Inks does with work on behalf of Easter Seals.

He isn't the only one in the family who has dealt with incredible hardship. Patti suffers from Hodgkin's lymphoma and has undergone a bone-marrow transplant. A GoFundMe page to help with the costs can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/pattiscancerfund.

"I think (Merril's) talk was right on time for her," Drusback said. "He is someone that can relate to some of the feelings. I think Merril's talk said, 'Let's go, let's find a way.' I think that helped her awful lot with what's going on."

The website, http://parkerspurpose.net/, has information if you'd like to donate money.

"For every family that we help, there are hundreds just like them that need assistance. You want to be able to get to them all unfortunately," Drusback said. "It all comes down to a funding issue. Now that people know who we are, we can't keep up with the applications. It comes to funding. As this thing moves forward, you need more manpower and you need more people to assist and Diversified Insurance has come to the forefront and that really helps with the marketing aspect.

"If anyone is interested in corporate sponsorships or straight donations, they are able to donate on our PayPal account on our website, or they can contact me on the email, parkerspurpose@gmail.com.";

Drusback credited the generous sponsors that have helped to advance the cause, namely Express Employment Professionals, OPOC.us and Dr. Rick Weicek, a surgeon based in Fremont.

 

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