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Karen Duerre Bodway and her 12-year-old son, Grant, look through the book "The Waterslide" while in their Fargo home. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Bemidji State grad's widow publishes his book after his death

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FARGO, N.D. -- In the years before his death, whenever he wasn't producing newscasts for a local TV station or spending time with his family, Brett Bodway could be found squirreled away at his computer working on his next writing project.

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Unlike some who dream large without follow-through, he'd been taking concrete steps to realize his hope of becoming a children's author through a correspondence course from the Institute of Children's Literature.

"He was always really good at poetry and just liked writing in general," said his widow, Karen Duerre Bodway, of Brett, who graduated from Bemidji State University with a B.S in telecommunications. "I suppose he felt he needed to beef up his skills a little, so he took that class. There were about 12 assignments, and this was one of the final ones."

Holding up a copy of "The Waterslide," which her husband wrote but never had a chance to see in print, Karen said bringing his favorite story through the steps of publication has also brought healing following his death two years ago and honored his legacy.

"I think that perhaps the ideas that have come into my head (concerning this project) have been from him," she said. "He would have wanted this."

Originally titled "A Dream Come True," the book reveals the story of a boy at summer camp searching for courage to overcome his fear of failure. Characters are patterned after real-life people, including Brett and their son, Grant.

"His instructor really liked this story but she suggested he change the title to 'Waterslide,' so I did that," Karen said. She also made other tweaks prior to having the book self-published.

"You really do see Brett in this. It shows his parenting style and how he handled Grant, how he calmed him down and talked him through things. That's very much how he was as a father."

Grant, now 11, said his dad was a quiet man who enjoyed children and liked to hang out with him. "We would ride bike and play catch or go bowling and do outings a lot," he said.

Minnesota Twins games were also a favorite destination, according to Karen, as were trips to Medora, N.D., as a family to take in the scenic Badlands and decompressing from life's busyness.

Dramatic turn in events

Despite health issues from diabetes, which ultimately involved two separate kidney transplants, Brett was in decent health the years leading up to his death, and taking advantage of what life had to offer.

But in late 2009, he began experiencing some physical signs. It started with hand tremors, followed by vision disturbances, and finally, pain near his jawbone.

The reason for the symptoms was discovered a couple of months later when Brett collapsed in the master-control room at the station now known as Valley News Live. Lymphoma was the eventual diagnosis.

"We were at home here, waiting for him to have radiation. It was in the afternoon on March 17, 2010. I was in the other room when I heard him collapse again," Karen said.

He'd experienced pulmonary embolism - a massive clot in the leg that shot through his heart and lungs - though it didn't come to light until after his death that day from cardiac arrest.

"I don't think he expected to die, not at that time," Karen said, adding that the embolism was connected to medication used during his kidney transplant years earlier.

A new, hopeful chapter

Karen said her initial intentions were to have Brett's story typed up for friends and family, but at some point the project took on another dimension.

"We've both accepted that he's physically gone, and Brett wouldn't have wanted us to sit and be depressed the rest of our lives," she said. "I was at a point where I just felt ready and guided to do this, and it's been a lot of fun to work on ... and to see it come to life on paper."

Summoning the help of local graphic designer Dennis Krull for the illustrations, she set about turning her husband's dream into reality in October, and received the first copies in February.

"It was so exciting. They overnight-mailed the proof to me, and I was sitting at my desk that day just waiting for the doorbell to ring," she said.

As she opened the envelope, it hit her: Brett's dream had come true.

Though Krull said he'd never illustrated a children's book before, the process turned out to be a valuable learning experience.

"Now that I've gone through this, I wouldn't mind doing another one, possibly even something with my daughter," he said, mentioning his 9-year-old, Jolee, and her writing talent. "It was fun working with Karen and getting this all together for her and her family."

A higher purpose

As the project evolved, Karen decided that 10 percent of the proceeds should benefit a program especially meaningful to the family - the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring program run by The Village Family Service Center. Not only does their son, Grant, take part as a "little brother," but it's something Brett believed in as well.

Karen said she's grateful to The Village for the helpful advice received there throughout the process and use the BBBS logo on the cover. More recently, the organization reached out to its national office to possibly extend the book's release.

Karen is also grateful for what the program has offered Grant through time spent with his Big Brother, Brandon Conkins.

"It's been a great asset because his dad was so involved in his life, so to have Brandon come take him out and do the male-bonding activities has been great," she said. "Then I get to stay home and have the house to myself, or do something fun, like meet a friend out for supper, so it gives me that break, too."

The two have gone bowling and fishing, as well as to a family lake cabin, elk farm, and various sporting events and other local activities.

"I've always just enjoyed and loved kids and was looking for an opportunity to give back to the community," Conkins said. "These children are in this situation due to no fault of their own. It's such an easy way to give back and help them."

Susan Smith, director of the local BBBS program, said she's been impressed at Karen's selflessness in reaching out to the program through the book. "I thought that was so kind-hearted of her, so generous, and we're really privileged to be included."

Not only that, she said, but the book is beautiful. "First of all, just knowing the story behind it is so touching," Smith said, "but the book has a really good story to it, too, and in the back there are pages that kids can use, so that's a really nice tool."

Though Grant is generally fairly reserved, Conkins said, he's detected glimmers of pride in him over what his mother has done. "You can tell when he likes something, and I think he's pretty proud of his mom for completing the book."

A book finds its readers

The most daunting task of self-publishing, Karen said, is trying to promote a work without the bonus of having celebrity status.

Her goal is to sell 3,000 copies so that she can make a decent donation to BBBS and, hopefully, set aside a little for Grant's college savings account. "We've got a long ways to go - it takes a while - but you've got to just keep getting the word out there."

Saturday would have been Brett's 49th birthday - a fact Karen hasn't overlooked. In addition, the first book signing at Zandbroz in downtown Fargo, which she'll manage in Brett's stead, will take place March 17, the anniversary of his death.

With signing pen ready, Karen and Grant will continue their efforts to bring life to a story and a man who brought them life and love.

"Come out to the St. Patrick's Day parade downtown," Karen said. "Help a good cause and then enjoy the parade."

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