Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 15, 2013

Long walk for awareness

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BENZONIA — It’s been nearly four years since Dean Cobb got the call.

The retired theater teacher remembers the day vividly. A secretary walked into his classroom at North Farmington High School and told him his daughter was on the phone.

”I was in my fifth-hour class, my last class of the day. A secretary came down and said ‘you need to take this call. It’s your daughter,’” Cobb said. “I immediately left and found out.”

Cobb’s daughter, already hysterical, told him her husband, Adam Tupa, 32, had killed himself that October afternoon in 2009.

“It obviously devastated our family,” Cobb said. “It was so unexpected and so out of the blue.”

Tupa left behind his wife and two young daughters. He also left a large extended family that spent the following years fighting its way though the anger and frustration that often follows in the wake of suicide.

Cobb was no different.

“I was so angry,” Cobb, 62, said. “And I continued the anger and that’s not the way to get past this. If I dwell on it, it comes back again. We were very close to him.”

Then, in 2011, just before retiring from teaching, Cobb decided he needed to do something. There were plenty of small events that try to raise awareness for suicide prevention causes, but he wanted to do something that would reach more people than those who, like him, already know the effects of suicide.

”I said to myself, ‘when I retire, I’m going to do something,’” he said. “‘I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to do something.’ I have to do something, it may be my cathartic nature.”

So Cobb hatched a plan to walk from his beloved vacation spot in Frankfort to his home in Hartland. The 224-mile walk would give the 41-year veteran teacher a chance to talk to many people about suicide prevention along the way. He worked out daily by walking routes in the neighborhoods near his downstate home. He arranged donated motel rooms spaced 20 miles apart along the route. And he recruited Duane Fox, liaison officer for Farmington schools, a close friend, to make the trek by his side.

Fox, a retired Farmington Hills police officer, had plenty of of his own experiences with suicide and was primed to join his friend.

But not long before the walk was set to begin in September of 2012, Cobb was laid up with a knee injury that required surgery.

“I had already gotten half of the rooms along the way,” he said. “It was tremendously frustrating.”

Cobb recovered and more determined than before has prepared to make the 224-mile walk. He and Fox will begin walking this morning and will end Sept. 26 in Hartland at the Out of the Darkness walk, a suicide prevention event hosted at the Kensington Metro Park.

Most of the hotel managers along the route have donated rooms to Cobb and Fox. Some have shared their own stories about how suicide has affected their lives.

”Since we started this process, we are figuring out how many people are affected by suicide,” Cobb said.

Cobb and Fox will begin walking along the Rails to Trails path near Benzonia on Sunday morning. They will carry pockets full of cards bearing the phone number of National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255.

The men will spend most of the trip along the side of roadways from Clare south to Lansing then southeast toward Heartland. They will walk about 20 miles each day to complete the trip in 11 days.

Cobb and Fox have asked people to join them along the way and talk about their own experiences with suicide.

”We’d like to hear their stories,” Cobb said.

They hope that even one person they contact will be affected enough to prevent a suicide. He contends that just listening often can be enough to prevent a suicide.

”I hope we didn’t miss signs. Looking back, maybe the signs were there,” he said. “Maybe we can get to some people along the way. The pain of walking is nothing compared to the pain of loss.”