Hard-hit community remembers Dickson boys
Local residents, Cassville students, staff search for new normal
The Cassville community banded together at a memorial service on April 27 to remember and honor the lives of Cassville students and 16-year-old twin brothers Lawrence and Michael Dickson.
The brothers died in a car accident on April 22, while driving to Branson, an unexpected accident that deeply affected the Cassville school district students and staff, along with the rest of the Cassville community, which is mourning the loss and struggling to find its footing in the midst of shock and disbelief.
Grief counselors have been on hand to help the school's students and staff cope with the sudden loss of the boys, who classmates and educators describe as well-liked young men admired for their uncanny ability to make others laugh and uplift anyone around them.
According to the boys' teachers, Mike and Larry, as they were called at school, were quite a pair and had a fun, mischievous streak about them.
Mandy Boone, 10th-grade Communication Arts teacher, said the boys were a blast to be around.
"They were never in a bad mood," she said. "Ornery is such a good word to describe them. But, they were ornery and rowdy in the best way possible. Mike liked movies. He would come in my room and try to watch movies and I would say, 'No.' Then he would say, 'But Miss Boone, I would be learning stuff,' and I would say 'no' again, and he would try again.
"Both boys were very likable and playful. They were always uplifting. In Branson, they [worked as] trail ride guides on weekends. Both of them were very intelligent. They always got their work done."
Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, spoke at the memorial service, hoping to calm hearts broken by the loss.
"Mike and Larry were all the good things that make boys, boys," he said. "Many of us struggle with the question, 'Why?' And the answer is, 'I don't know why.'"
Asbill went on to quote a scripture, Matthew 27: 45-54.
"Now from the sixth hour, darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour," he read. "About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?' And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, 'This man is calling for Elijah.' And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, became very frightened and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'
With difficulty, Asbill then asked the attendees, which included the majority of the student body and many from the community, the question, "How can we move on?"
"Death is certain for all of us, but how can we approach tomorrow?" he said.
He then shared a scripture from Psalms 139: 13-16.
"For you, God, created my innermost spirit," he read. "You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
Asbill went on to answer the question he posed.
"[We can move on] by remembering two wonderful young boys, by trusting in our families, friends and community that [God] has a plan for each of us, and that we can seek Him and know that He has a plan for each day," he said.
The Cassville High School choir sang two hymns, "I'm A Long Time Traveling Here" and "So Let Go My Soul," and the poem, "Broken Chain," was read by students and teachers.
Tina Mills, 10th-grade Biology teacher, also has great memories of the twins.
"You know the kids that make you laugh whether you want to or not? That was these boys," she said. "[They were] very smart kids that brightened every room they were in. I could always count on them to add great stories to whatever the topic was for the day. They were crazy, fun, softhearted, loyal [and] country boys in every sense. They would hold doors for you and pick you up when you were down.
"Every day in seventh hour, Larry would start the class with a story to make me laugh -- and it always did. It did not matter the subject, we would say a word and he would have a story. One day I said, 'alligator.' Larry says, 'Ok got one.' I replied with, 'How do you have a story about alligators?' He simply replied, 'Mrs. Mills, I have family in Louisiana,' so he went on to tell the story.
"Then the next day, I said 'elephants,' thinking there's no way he has a story for elephants. Well, without hesitation, he replies, 'Ok, I have one,' so I stop him and say, 'How could you possibly have a story for elephants?' He simply would reply, 'Mrs. Mills, my step-mother works at the Dickerson Park Zoo as a zookeeper.' At that point, I realized he had me beat and would have a story for anything."
Mills remembers Mike in a different way, but just as special.
"He was quieter, but had this amazing heart," she said. "His friends knew they could trust him no matter what. Mike would add amazing stories and facts to almost all topics we mentioned, but it was easier for him to talk one-on-one with someone. He was more personal.
"Students do not realize teachers love their students. We care about all parts of their lives and worry about them, we want to see them succeed and hate to see them hurt. I loved these boys so very much, and know I will never look at my classroom and students the same again."
Cassville High School Principal Jeff Swadley also spoke at the service, asking the same question Asbill did.
"[We can move on] by consoling each other," he said.
Swadley said it had been a hard week, and when he could not stand any more sadness, he had asked to hear funny stories about the boys.
"They were two of the orneriest boys, and like Dr. Asbill said, there's a few [stories] I wish I wouldn't have heard," he said.
Swadley recalled several memories, including how the boys made him feel on the first day of school, and how they played him with their twin status to leave him guessing who was who. He also recalled football-related stories and other hilarious things they did.
"That's the boys I remember," he said. "Those are the boys I'm going to miss."
Students and teachers shared fond memories, too. Memories of the boys sharing bear hugs, spawning laughter to uplift others, and pulling practical jokes.
"If you knew those boys, they made you laugh," Swadley said. "They made me laugh, even when they were in trouble. God placed them here to put a little joy in our lives. They could make our day better, every time. Without Larry and Mike, this school will never be normal again. They were ornery and enjoyed ever second of every day."
Swadley said the school had to somehow find a new normal.
"The goal is not to live forever, but those two create something that will be remembered forever," he said. "I love and miss you guys, and I can't wait to see you again someday."
Swadley thanked the Dickson family.
"Thank you for letting us have your boys as long as we did," he said. "They were a pleasure, and we will miss them forever."
Cassville student Kylie Wolf sang a song accompanied by students on guitar, and Asbill gave the last words.
"They were our friends, our students, our neighbors, and our sons, and we will miss them," he said. "God knew the sorrow when Jesus died and knew the hurt, and we will hurt. And that's OK. We must know now how to face tomorrow."
He then quoted the scripture John 3:16.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believe on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," he read. "Let us help this family, and help each other, face tomorrow with God."
Swadley said on Friday, after the service, that he was extremely proud of the community, teachers and students.
"You never want something like this to draw you closer, but it has," he said. "When you're facing adversity, you can either become disjointed, or come together as one to create a path to recovery, and I will forever be grateful for that.
"These boys will be missed. They were good kids. Nothing will ever be normal again, because these boys are gone, but we have to find our new normal. We've worked hard to find that this week. My job is to help get this school refocused and find the new normal."