Media Watch 

Keeping Gary's Memory Alive

The tired adage "time heals all wounds" holds no solace whatsoever for Charles Durrenberger. The Arizona Daily Star sportswriter is approaching a sad second anniversary: On June 1, 2004, his son, Gary, was killed in a traffic accident.

Gary was returning from Rocky Point, Mexico, with two friends when he tried to pass a water truck on a two-lane road. The truck pulled out to make a turn. Gary swerved, likely saving the life of his passengers, but died upon impact.

"He had zero alcohol in his body," Durrenberger said. "I really thought he might have had a beer or two in his system. They say he went to bed at a decent hour, because he knew he had to get back and go to class at 1 o'clock. Everything went wrong. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

And Durrenberger has lived with the torment ever since.

"The second year has been harder than the first," Durrenberger said. "You're in shock, and then it starts to set in. You finally realize he's not coming back, and you see other people going on with their lives, and you don't want to go on with your life. He had just graduated high school. Two months later, his friends are packing up the house, moving into dorms. We'd go to Target, and there would be college kids in there buying their stuff, and we'd have to leave. It's the little things that blindside you."

With the help of counseling, Durrenberger says he has learned to better departmentalize his emotions.

"I had no idea what losing a child was like," Durrenberger said. "I had friends who had lost children in accidents. Some of them, I didn't even go to the services. They were back in Texas. And I just didn't get it. It's like your grandmother dying, you know. It's nothing like that. It's your legacy. It's your future. It's your child. You're supposed to die before your child. You're not supposed to bury your child. It's an out-of-order kind of thing. A lot of people who lose children never come to grips with it. It's really, really hard."

Durrenberger continues Gary's legacy in a number of ways. In a more high-profile capacity, he honors his son through the Gary P. Durrenberger Memorial Golf Tournament at the Golf Club at Vistoso. This year's event is scheduled for Friday, May 19. A silent auction will occur the night before.

"It goes to a scholarship fund that we've set up in Gary's memory," Durrenberger said. "We're going to give our first scholarships this spring. We're probably going to give a two-year scholarship to Pima, and a four-year scholarship somewhere else. At the most, we'll probably have four four-year renewable scholarships at the same time.

"We made $16,000 last time. Looks like we might double that this year. We sold out last year, 144 golfers. We're sold out this year. I think we have 34 tee sponsors. It's a good time. I want to make it the best in Tucson. I want to make it a fun, classy event for a good cause. We thought it was natural to capture Gary's love of golf and keep his legacy alive, to make something positive out of something terrible."

And it acts as a form of therapy for Durrenberger and his family.

"It's been a mission for us," Durrenberger said. "Frankly, sometimes, it's been really hard to get out of bed, because you're stuck in your misery and your loss. It gets you out of bed and gets you going and gets you out talking to people about him, (to) help spread the word about what a great kid he was. You can't sit idly by and be miserable. You're going to be miserable anyway. Why not try to channel that negative energy into something positive?"

Last Friday, the Arizona Daily Star announced it was making changes in the sports department. Durrenberger will no longer handle the UA football beat, the position he occupied since making the jump from the Tucson Citizen. Ryan Finley will take over the football beat position while Durrenberger tackles general-assignment sports reporting and a temporary place on the copy desk.

It's a move with which Durrenberger has no problems. The changes will offer him a greater opportunity to tend to new family responsibilities: In March, Durrenberger and his wife, Laura, welcomed a new addition, Paige Alexander.

"We always wanted to have another child," Durrenberger said. "I don't know if it just didn't happen, and then Gary got older and got into middle school, and the age difference got away from us. You read all the books about the replacement child. Is this the right thing to do? Is there too much pressure? It's not that we were trying to replace Gary. We loved kids. We always wanted to have another child. We could, but just didn't for some reason.

"I talked to my counselor a lot about this. He said the worst thing you can do is keep Gary a secret. He said, 'You're going to have his picture up. You're going to talk about him. You'll say: Remember when he did this? When she's old enough, she'll start asking questions. Just be honest with her. She'll begin asking more questions, but let it be on her terms. She'll be fine with it, because you're fine with it. Don't compare her to Gary. Don't let her be that replacement child. You have to let her be herself. She can be very different. Just go with it.'"

It's a time of new beginnings, and a greater appreciation for what's really important.

"We'll be together. We'll be a family and say 'I love you' more, because you never know if you'll come home," Durrenberger said.

Information on the Gary P. Durrenberger Memorial Golf Tournament is available at www.golfforgary.org.

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