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  • Writer's pictureAaron Ferguson

Aaron Ferguson: Learning to forever be 'DJ Strong'

Aaron Ferguson pictured with Sally Des Jardins at a wedding in September 2018.

I've always loved journalism because of the opportunity to meet people and share their stories.

But when I first started out, I never realized how those people would impact my life.

Sally Des Jardins was vibrant. Everything in a big world seemed to be simplified to her. She lived in the moment, giving each person her undivided attention, caring for them as if they were one of her own. Above all, she cared about her family and friends, and made everyone she met feel loved.

Sally died Dec. 2, shortly after 11 p.m. from her second bout with cancer. Both battles were in the middle of her two daughters' state championship runs at Peoria Richwoods High School in Illinois, coming within 10 years of each other.

I was fortunate enough to meet the Des Jardins family while reporting on Natalie's prep career. She was a three-sport athlete — volleyball, basketball and soccer — at a school of 1,239 students was not very common. Any time her mom and dad, Paul, walked into the gym, it seemed we always had a long conversation about anything and everything.

Shortly after Sally died, messages began flooding her Facebook wall.

"You are one of the most AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL people I have ever met in my life. The love that you give is pure and strong," wrote Nikki Rocke, the mother of one of Natalie's classmates who frequented the DJ's home.

"This is how I will always remember you ... Beautiful & radiant," wrote Jordan O'Neill, a niece of Sally's.

Journalism is beautiful and an industry I never wanted to leave. After being a part of corporate layoffs, people often wondered how I dealt with it. Truthfully, I powered through because of people like Sally, who showed strength, courage and joy no matter what she faced.

Paul and Sally's oldest daughter, Danielle Des Jardins Garber, shared on Facebook the three principles their mom taught them:

"1. Kill people with kindness. Always be kind to everyone even if you might not agree with them or if their views are different. Learn to accept everyone for their differences and for who they are! Find the good in everyone.

2. Fight and never give up. Life isn’t easy, and will always find a way to knock you down. Get up and keep going. Life throws you punches get up and throw the next punch. Believe in yourself

3. Be God ready. My mom always told us kids we have to be God Ready growing up. You never know when your time is up...are you ready right now to face God?"

Whenever Sally walked into a room, it seemed to light up. Her vibrancy carried through the room, her strength was uplifting in trying times. She showed up, time and again, to love and support her family. Seeing her in the gym, continuing to cheer, despite undergoing treatments was special.

The stresses of searching for a job, freelancing and finding ways to make ends meet seemed to subside. While journalism is an outlet to share others' stories, I'm grateful that I can pull life lessons from those stories, too.

The Des Jardins poured into me and getting a first-hand look at their strength, tight-knit family and love for others is something I'll both cherish and remember.

Over 600 people attended the visitation. Her life message to her kids was shared, at least through actions, with each of them and many more. Many kids have been through the Des Jardins house, including Noah and Nelson Reynolds, who wore pink shoes with "Sally" written on them when rival Peoria Notre Dame played at Richwoods this past week.

Sally reminded us of what being "DJ Strong" is all about. Her strength persisted until her oldest son Matt made it in from Mesa, Arizona. The family — Matthew, Natalie, Nate, Danielle, Paul and Sally — could be together one last time.

Thank you, Sally and Des Jardins family, for showing a community love, courage and strength, welcoming so many into your presence. We are better for it and the world will be a brighter place because of Sally's impact.

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