At 10 years old, Derek Gerlach spends his days building with LEGOs, playing video games, doing school work and listening to his dad read to him.
But he also is fighting.
The Dell Rapids boy whose father, Shane Gerlach grew up in Flandreau, had a golf ball-sized mass at the base of this skull removed in early November and has been receiving proton radiation therapy and chemotherapy at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., after a diagnosis of Medulloblastoma.
Derek is scheduled to complete his first round of chemotherapy today and will return home to Dell Rapids. He will prepare to continue treatments for a year.
Family friends have planned a fundraiser of storytelling on Jan. 25 at the Crystal Theatre to raise money to help with medical expenses the Gerlachs have had with Shane and Donelle taking turns staying with their son at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.
The Plains Speaking People program is a group of eight people telling stories. Shane Gerlach participated the first time it was presented last summer in downtown Sioux Falls. Each story is limited to 10 minutes.
“They can be funny; they can be heartbreaking. They can be informational. It’s really just the power of the spoken word,” said Mike Henriksen, a radio announcer from Dell Rapids who is helping promote the fundraiser.
Some of the storytellers for the event are long-time KELO anchor Doug Lund, long-time radio personality Jeff Gould, Henriksen, Flandreau resident Emily Firman Pieper and others.
“My story is about hauling hogs to Chicago Thanksgiving week, 1971,” Henriksen said. “It really runs the gamut.”
The event starts with music by pianist Will Prines at 7 p.m. and the stories beginning at 7:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $10 or more with tickets only available at the door. “All proceeds go directly to the Gerlach family,” Henriksen said. “This is so important. This is the second major hit that they have taken in the year.”
In November 2017, Donelle was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a year ago this month she had a double mastectomy and rebuild. Derek’s diagnosis was in November, one year after his mom’s.
Shane Gerlach, who graduated from Flandreau in 1986, also will share the story of his son during the fundraiser.
Derek, an only child, has been a fighter since before he was born, his dad says. Shane and Donelle used in vitro fertilization to conceive Derek, who was the only surviving egg in the process. Born prematurely, the family planned for a minimum 30-day stay in the hospital. Their baby was out in 10.
“The first round of Plains People Speaking was one of the most rewarding nights I have been involved in, to be included in such a talented group of speakers and share the story of the nonprofit, SiouxperCon, that I co-founded, was amazing,” Gerlach said. “When Mike Henriksen reached out to me about having a second Plains People Speaking to benefit my family, I was moved to tears.”
Former theater professor Kim Bartling, who is an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, came up with the idea of Plains Speaking people and hopes to make it a business that can travel the state and encourage stories from each stop.
“It’s kind of like Prairie Home Companion,” said Bartling, who grew up outside of Garretson and lives part of the time in Sioux Falls and part of the time in Belize. “It’s super fun and moving and funny.”
The Flandreau event is focused on Derek’s story. “I really want people to come and celebrate this child who has a story to tell already at age 10.”
But there are stories in every area of South Dakota, too, she said. “We need to get to the point where we’re telling our real and true stories and keeping those alive.”
Dan Sutton said the theater has donated the venue and some advertising for the event.
“Shane being from Flandreau and being involved has done things at the Crystal. I just think it’s important to give back,” Sutton said. Shane Gerlach’s parents, Jim and Diane Gerlach, also had a business in Flandreau for years.
In addition to the Plains Speaking People fundraiser, Deb Feske has T-shirts for sale and Bar X is selling wristbands. Jamie Gaspar is baking cupcakes and taking orders to raise money.
Shane Gerlach said that having a fundraiser in his hometown “just proves that you really can go home again.
“No matter how far you move away or how long you have been gone, your hometown will always be your hometown, and Flandreau has rallied around my family,” he said.