Thank you, Darla

Robert Maharry

During a college writing class, I was introduced to a short story apocryphally credited to Ernest Hemingway and widely considered one of the most concise, heartbreaking pieces of prose ever put to pen: “For sale—baby shoes, never worn.”
Despite Hemingway’s status as perhaps the greatest voice in the history of American literature, I think I can do him one better in the same number of words: “The cancer’s back, and it’s spreading.”
Darla Ubben was one of the first—if not the first—people I ever met when I came to Conrad, Iowa, in the summer of 2013. I was young, clueless, green in the ways of the world and wondering what the heck I was going to write about here. From the moment we met, she made me feel at home and answered the question from the previous sentence resoundingly: I was going to cover the downtown revitalization project, and I was going to be busy.
As time went on, Darla became perhaps the single most quoted individual in my journalistic career: whether it was Main Street, Pumpkin Fest, Christmas in Conrad or “Mystery at Wolf Creek,” she was always willing to take time out of her day to let me know what was happening in our little community. I watched her two oldest children, Conner and Samantha, excel in sports at BCLUW. Whether you’re a Comet, Spartan, Rebel, Falcon, Wolverine or Cougar parent, you probably know Darla.
We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we always respected each other. She asked about my hometown. I asked about how Conner liked Northwestern and how Sam was preparing for the next big softball game. It was always great to catch up.
Darla played a crucial role in putting the Main Street program to good use in Conrad and serving as a mentor for Grundy Center officials when they applied for a similar grant. An Aplington native, she’s been committed to encouraging growth and success in the area and staying true to her roots. Simply put, she’s a pillar of the community.
Of course, the reason I’m writing this is because of the bad news. In 2016, Darla was diagnosed with colon cancer, and after rounds and rounds of treatments and chemotherapy, it’s back. And it’s aggressive.
Cancer is everywhere, it seems: we all know someone who’s fighting it, whose life it’s claimed or who’s a proud survivor, and it’s difficult to rationalize because it’s so indiscriminate. Darla is a great person with unwavering faith and a great family— including a daughter still in high school—and she hasn’t even celebrated her 50th birthday yet. How could she possibly deserve this?
She doesn’t. No one does. But the way that she’s conducted herself in the face of such unspeakable adversity says a lot about the kind of person she is.
When I read that Darla might not make it to Christmas, my heart sunk to the floor, as I’m sure many others did. From our time working together, I knew how much she loved the holiday and the season, and I knew how much effort she put into Christmas in Conrad each year. How is this fair? How can any of this be considered just?
I can’t claim to know Darla the best or have spent the most time with her, but she’s made an indelible mark on my life. She’s left a mark on the town she calls home, the school district her children attend and hundreds of lives in her orbit, and the bonds that she’s built through sports, faith and Chamber/Main Street will never be broken.
So if there’s anything the rest of us can take from this cruel ordeal and the pain Darla has endured throughout it, maybe it’s that we should enjoy every holiday, every meal, every family get together and every sporting event a little bit more, because one day, we’ll be looking back and desperately wishing we could experience them one last time.
But alas, Darla is still here, and she’s still strong. As we know, she won’t go down without a fight. So let’s celebrate her, thank her, pray for Eugene, Conner, Sam and Madison and do everything in our power to carry on the legacy that she’s left in Conrad. Cancer may take a person away, but it will never take away the things they’ve done. 

The Grundy Register

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