A tender dance

News | October 23, 2019

The day after a young woman named Emerson Hughes was diagnosed with leukemia, my son, Nick Hartje, called from the hospital. It was clear Emerson, his girlfriend, wouldn’t be able to go to their homecoming at Davenport Central this year. Her doctors ordered isolation during the first part of her treatment. Nick planned, he said, to put together their own homecoming with a small group of friends as soon as the doctors gave the go-ahead.

That permission came a week ago Monday. Operation Sunshine was finally a go.

For a few weeks now, I’ve watched Nick weave ideas together with their friends and family. He borrowed his dad’s bright yellow sports car, Emerson’s grandfather and his step-dad volunteered to take photographs, and they worked together on dinner plans that would give Emerson a chance to eat out at Granite City, but in a private room. She ordered a dress and shoes and picked out a shirt and tie for Nick. The people at Haus of Heir graciously did Emerson’s hair and nails. A couple of friends bowed out because they felt a little bit sick – and Emerson being around someone who is even a little bit sick is not OK right now.

Emerson thought since they had missed out on the school dance two weeks earlier, that they would just go for photos, dinner, and ice cream, and then head home. And that was OK – she was happy to have a night out with her friends after a month of isolation.

What Nick didn’t tell Emerson is that he and her friends also planned a surprise dance at their school.

No more than 14 people could attend – that was the limit that doctors gave. One of the Central band directors, David Nicholson, opened the doors to the lobby of the school’s performing arts center on Sunday afternoon so the operation crew could decorate, then again in the evening in time for the dance. Nick delegated one job to me – I was in charge of finding lights and a speaker to rent, and I rocked it, if I do say so myself. After dinner on Sunday evening, Nick put some acting skills to work as he and Emerson made their way to Central instead of home.

A dance awaited.

For about an hour, Emerson, Nick, and their friends danced and took photos and laughed. Emerson’s and Nick’s family stood in the shadows and watched.

Emerson’s treatment will last a couple of years, and treatment is pretty tough right now. The tough stuff will ease over time, thankfully. A social media hashtag has emerged around her story. It’s got a nice ring to it – #emerstrong.

I’m confident the tenderness shown in all of this will remain.

May we raise children
who love the unloved
things – the dandelion, the
worms and spiderlings.
Children who sense
the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days
the same way they
turn towards sun…

And when they’re grown &
someone has to speak for those
who have no voice

may they draw upon that
wilder bond, those days of
tending tender things

and be the ones.

-Nicolette Sowder


Words by Ann McGlynn, director of communication at St. Paul. Photos by Greg Boll, Meredith Hughes, and Sean O’Neal.


17 Comments on “A tender dance”

  • Kathie Heaps

    October 30, 2019 at 8:24 am

    We live vicariously through our children. Ann, you just had a night to remember in yours. Great acts of love. What a kid, you have ! Hugs and prayers

  • Scott Forsberg

    October 28, 2019 at 8:12 am

    What a beautiful story of such young caring people. Bless you all!

  • Georgeann Kreiter

    October 25, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    What a lovely story of loving and caring young people. Special friends for sure . Thank you for sharing.

  • Heidi Watkins

    October 25, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    A most heartwarming story, to be sure! We need to hear more stories of good kids doing good things! Prayers for Emerson—for courage, strength, faith, and healing. Sounds like she is surrounded by good friends! #emerstrong…I like that! (And you’re right, Ann. You absolutely ROCKED the LIGHTS!!!) ????????????❤️

  • Suzy Schindler

    October 25, 2019 at 10:34 am

    What an endearing set of moments brought together with such compassion, simplicity and generosity. Blessings to Emerson & her family during her health journey.

  • Karen Rohlf

    October 24, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    How endearing to read about a wonderful group of young people with amazing qualities! An example for all of us! May treatment be successful!

  • Diana Holland

    October 24, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you……

  • Lyle Peterson

    October 24, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing

  • James Howell

    October 24, 2019 at 5:14 pm


    What a beautiful story about your son Nick, his girlfriend Emerson, and various friends and family members that made this special event magical. Congrats to all the good role models!

    I pray that one day my daughters meet someone like Nick.

  • Sheila Mesick

    October 24, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    Bless Nick & friends who created an celebration especially for Emerson. Her chance to be with friends and experience this rite of passage for these teens was not overlooked. Through the photographs are shared smiles and embraces that reflect the loving light of Christ. Rock on!

  • Anne Budde

    October 24, 2019 at 3:35 pm


    What a truly beautiful story of humanness and love! Thank you to Emerson and Nick for their willingness to share in an open and vulnerable way. What a gift you are to the St. Paul’s community…bringing us all together through stories and sharing.

    Much Love,

    Anne Budde

  • Teri Voyna

    October 24, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    Nick’s heart is as big as his Mama’s. Way to go Nick…you did good, Ann. Love you all.

  • Phyllis Hofer

    October 24, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    Not surprising that Nick is your son, Ann. He is caring and compassionate just like his Mom. What a beautiful story.

  • Allison Passon

    October 24, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    Ann, you my dear, have done a darn tootin’ good job parenting this young man. This story brings tears to my eyes, as I am sure others too. These are memories that will span lifetimes. <3

  • anke maass

    October 24, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    OMG the tears, smiles and pride in this young man….your son!!!

    God bless

  • Eyreka Barnes

    October 24, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    There are no words, that was beautiful.

  • Vicki Felger

    October 24, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Oh Ann, a story of love and compassion written so beautifully! You must be so very proud of this wise and caring young man! Thanks for sharing!

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