Through a brother’s words, a community meets Dustin CanhamOn the morning of Dustin Canham’s memorial, a light coating of snow fell, and it’s worth noting only because it’s an unusual event for Lake Stevens this time of year. By the afternoon, most of the snow had melted, and hundreds of mourners, well-wishers, friends, family, military and police gathered at Elim Lutheran Church to celebrate the life of Dustin Canham, gone at the young age of 21, taken while serving our country in his chosen profession as a United States Marine, pursuing the War on Terror in the darkest corners of Africa.
Who was Dustin Canham? By now, we all know the details, the specifics. He was a Marine. He was in Africa. He’s from Lake Stevens. He leaves behind a 19-year-old wife.
Anyway, as Mitch’s story unfolded, we learned that Dustin was many things. He was a golfer. He was a magician. He was a pilot, a comedian, a husband. He was a professional paintball player. He was a brother, a son. He was a Marine.
“He was all of those things. Anything he wanted to do, he found a way to do it. He was always a comedian. There was never a time when Dust wouldn’t tell a joke try to cheer someone up. I don’t even know how he remembered ‘em all. Most of them were dirty jokes our uncle told him,” Mitch recalled, chuckling along with the audience.
“He was ten times the man I will ever be,” Mitch said. This is really saying something, because Mitch is no slouch himself. In fact, we’ve written about Mitch several times in these pages.
A standout football and baseball star at LSHS, Mitch took a scholarship to Oregon State University. He was thrust into a new role, and forced to learn the catcher position, perhaps the most intricate and physically demanding role in baseball. All he did at Oregon State was become an All-American, captaining his team to two College World Series championships.
“Mitch is the best leader in the country - there’s no leader better than Mitch Canham on and off the field. He’s the heart and soul of our club,” said OSU coach Pat Casey.
Off the field, Mitch was a two time Pac-10 All-Academic Team selection and organized a concert to benefit the Special Olympics, at which he performed original music penned in his spare time. Last spring, Mitch was drafted in the second round by the San Diego Padres and inked a hefty (and well-deserved contract).
So enough about Mitch we’ll be hearing more from him in the future, without a doubt. Let’s just say that if Dustin is ten times the man Mitch is - we’re talking about a pretty substantial person here.
So, Mitch, what made Dustin special?
He was passionate: “For such a small guy, his heart was huge. I thought I was passionate about things, but watching the way Dust went about his life the way he wasn’t afraid to love, and to give love to everyone he saw…”
He was a family man: “We talk about family being the most important thing. I always tell people family is the most important thing in my life…but Dustin looked at it differently…I looked at family as my dad, my two brothers, my mom…Dustin looked at family as everyone he met.”
He was tough: “I always wanted to be the tough older brother, but there were a few times when he really put a wallop on me. I’d put on my fake smile but deep down he’d really beat the crap out of me! I’ll give him that.
He was giving: “I don’t know how he did it. How someone could be so special and go through life without asking for anything. He’d spend his last dollar…he didn’t care, he just wanted to make other people happy.”
He was a teacher: “It’s funny growing up with two brothers that are totally different. It teaches you how to love different people people that don’t necessarily like the same things. But at the end of the each day, whether we were pissed off because we beat the crap out of each other or whatever, we knew we had love and you would do anything for that guy lying next to you.
As Mitch’s speech came to a close almost fifteen minutes later, the assembled audience shared in their love and admiration for a great man gone too soon. When Mitch wondered aloud if it was any wonder that God took Dustin on Easter, heads nodded in universal agreement.
“Dustin is ten times the man I’ll ever be,” Mitch repeated, “He is better than any relative that went before him, and to know that I get to be his brother and share the same last name as him…to know that I got to spend 18 years with him…to have that with me for the rest of my life is something I’ll always be proud of. If anyone ever asks me who I looked up to most in my life, it will always be Dustin.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, seven Marines in full dress fired their respective rifles three times. The sun came out. The snow melted. And a community saddened by the unspeakable tragedy of young death came together through the words of one young man talking about his love for his little brother. Dustin Canham is gone, but his family is not, his community is not - and through the thoughts, actions, words and memories shared with us by his brother Mitch, Dustin Lee Canham will be part of the collective soul of Lake Stevens forever.
To see video of Mitch’s eulogy, visit the Off the Record blog at www.lakestevensjournal.com. Please also follow the link to the online petition requesting the Canham brothers’ immediate admittance to the Lake Stevens Hall of Fame at Lake Stevens High School. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.