The Currin Family: Keep Going

A father’s final words to his son. A son’s tragic death. The gift of grace. In the face of life’s worst moments, the Currin family manages to Keep Going.
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The Currin Family, around the time Michael (plaid shirt) graduated from high school.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE CURRIN FAMILY

Saturday, September 19, 2020, was a warm, sunny day in southwest Ohio. That night, after his 17-year-old sister Anna’s senior day volleyball game, 14-year-old Drew Currin had gone with friends to play basketball when he “suddenly got an urge” to stop. “Something didn’t feel right,” says Drew, “like something bad was going to happen. I told myself: You’re being paranoid, because you don’t want to lose anybody, especially after losing Dad.” But for the rest of the night, he couldn’t shake the feeling.

Hours later, at 4 a.m., his mom, Callie, was asleep in the family’s Montgomery home when she heard the buzz of her phone. She glanced at the screen and snapped awake after seeing missed calls from the Dayton police and Miami Valley Hospital. Her thoughts turned immediately to her oldest son, Michael, a freshman at the University of Dayton.

She quickly tried to call Michael, but got no response, so she called his roommates instead. “And where is Michael?” She recalls asking when one answered. No one knew. They hadn’t seen him since 3 a.m.

When Callie finally heard back from the hospital, the Montgomery police were pulling into her driveway. “I have a college student myself,” she recalls the doctor on the other end of the phone saying as the police began knocking on her door. “Michael has been in a horrible accident. You need to come immediately.”

Callie quickly made sure Anna, Drew, and her other son, 16-year-old John, were safe and accounted for before making the “surreal” drive up to Dayton. To this day, most of the details are hazy, but a few things still stick in her mind.

She recalls the looks on the faces of nurses and staff when they realized who she was there to see. She recalls the first time she saw her oldest child that dark September morning, lying unconscious and on life support in a hospital bed. And she recalls desperately wondering why no one could tell her what had happened to him.


Joe and Callie Currin with their children Drew, Anna, John, and Michael.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE CURRIN FAMILY

On another sunny day 10 years earlier, in southwest Florida, Always a Family was celebrating its biennial reunion and the inaugural year of a family fun run along the beach in Venice.

Joe Currin, an attorney and the youngest of 10 siblings in a solidly Catholic Cincinnati/Dayton family, and Callie, a teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom who’d grown up in Columbus, were there with the kids; Michael was 8; Anna, 7; John, 6; and Drew, 4.

Joe and Callie had always planned to end up back in Cincinnati, where Anna would attend one of the girls’ schools and Michael, John, and Drew would attend Moeller High School, where Joe had been a basketball star. But Callie could never figure out how that was going to happen. First they’d moved to Illinois for Joe’s job and then to Singapore, where they had been living for six months. “We kept moving farther and farther away,” she says.

The trip back to the states had been fun. Callie had spent a month visiting family with the kids while Joe flew back and forth to Singapore for work, but by the time the couple reunited in Florida, they were exhausted. Even in Singapore, Joe hadn’t been feeling himself. The couple attributed it to a fall he’d taken playing basketball with the kids and moved on.

The night before the race, Callie had “the worst dream,” she says—Joe had left her and the kids. She woke him in the middle of the night, distraught. “That’s crazy,” he told her. “I promise I’ll never leave.”

When they awoke the next day, Joe “wasn’t feeling right,” says Callie. She tried to convince him not to run, but he stuck with the plan, recruiting Michael, the oldest, to run alongside him and Callie. One of Joe’s sisters watched the younger kids.

“I remember seeing Joe and Michael running ahead of me,” says Callie, and thinking Joe wasn’t acting like himself. When she made it up to the jetty alongside the beach, one of Joe’s sisters told her: Joe has collapsed. I need you to hurry.

Callie found family members administering CPR on her husband, who was unconscious. He’d suffered a heart attack.

At the hospital, a disoriented Callie tried to answer doctor’s questions as they tried to revive Joe. But at age 38, encircled by family and surrounded in prayer, he never regained consciousness.

“I was broken,” Michael would say years later. “I bawled my eyes out. It felt impossible.”

But he’d also eventually tell his mom the rest of the story: How proud he had been to be one of the “big kids” running in the race. How he had just broken away from his dad—no small feat given Joe was an avid runner—and how he still remembered his dad’s face, framed between two trees, as he said two final words to Michael, a simple phrase: keep going.

Those words became something of a mantra for Michael and his family in the years following Joe’s death: words they said to themselves whenever things got tough. Words Michael saw nearly every morning printed on a photo of him and his dad that he kept beside his bed. Words Michael eventually shared with others, in an effort to inspire them and keep his dad’s memory alive.


Micheal and Joe Currin

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE CURRIN FAMILY

After Joe’s death, Callie was reeling. She had not only lost her husband, but nearly “everything we owned, including the dog, was in Singapore.” Soon, family began asking, What are you going to do? “And again,” says Callie, “I have a dream. It was not even a question.” You’re going to Cincinnati was the message she got. “I remember thinking: Oh my God—this is how I get there.

Callie and the kids moved to her in-laws’ lower level for nearly a year while she figured out what came next. She enrolled the kids in grief counseling at Fernside and Catholic elementary school at All Saints, next to Moeller, in Kenwood. Eventually, she bought a small Cape Cod with a big backyard in downtown Montgomery— walking distance to school and doors away from her All Saints “mentor mom,” Emily Thompson. Knowing a single mother of four kids could only do so much, neighborhood families immediately pitched in to help the Currins any way they could.

Thompson and the other neighborhood women helped Callie clean, unpack, make beds, and hang pictures. They invited the Currins to holidays and family parties. In summers, the neighborhood kids all cut through each other’s yards to play; after school, people pitched in to give the Currin kids rides to and from practices and games. “No one questioned anything that would make it easier for them,” says Thompson.

And if anything went wrong and Callie needed help—home repairs, car wouldn’t start—she knew she could call the neighbors. For years, says Thompson, “We just kind of functioned as one big family.”

Meantime, Callie worked diligently on raising compassionate kids and keeping Joe a part of their lives. She hung the family photo, with Joe in it, in the living room, so any time the kids walked in the door “they saw we are a family,” she says. She also hung a photo of Michael, Anna, John, and Drew in her bedroom—“this constant reminder that life is worth living.”

Once, when school was starting, she gave the kids four McDonald’s World Cup glasses she’d found in a box from Joe’s office. “I don’t know how many times your dad must have gone to McDonald’s,” she told them, “but this is your gift from him, and I happened to find them. Things don’t just happen,” she went on to say—there’s always a reason. “However we want to receive these messages is up to us.”

The children each dealt with Joe’s death in their own way, but Michael, who was both “intense” and “super competitive,” says Callie, inherently felt called to step up, even though he was only in grade school.

He’d already been filling in as Callie’s “wingman” for years, helping her navigate new cities at an impossibly young age. Now he began entertaining his siblings with backyard games, helping keep them in line and making sure Callie had what she needed before running off to play with friends.

As a single parent, says Callie, “my biggest goal was: You are not responsible for the adult things. I never wanted to be like: Your dad’s gone, now you’re the man of the house. But in not saying that, he almost took the role on more.”

Still, life without Joe could be overwhelming for them all. Sometimes, says Callie, Michael would say to her, This is really hard. And Callie would say, What did your dad say? And he would say, Keep going, Mom. And she would say, Remember those words.


Michael Currin around the time of his high school graduation

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE CURRIN FAMILY

By the time he made his way through All Saints, Michael had developed the unusual ability to be friends with just about anyone, says Nolan Lyon, a friend and classmate since third grade. He had also begun to develop a quiet but powerful “energy that other people were just attracted to,” says Callie.

His classes at All Saints and Moeller were packed with talented athletes; Michael had learned to compete. But while “Michael may have been the first to knock an opponent down,” says religion teacher and Moeller freshman basketball coach Dave Campbell, he was also “the first to help you up.”

When Michael arrived at Moeller, a major sports powerhouse with a national reputation, he already had a history there. The varsity basketball coach (and now principal), Carl Kremer, had coached both his dad and his cousin in basketball, and Michael, John, and Drew had attended summer camps there, too. The coaches knew Michael was passionate and a hard worker—“man made good,” as Kremer describes it—but weren’t sure how he’d do on a high-level high school team. It didn’t take long, says Campbell, to realize they never wanted to take him off the floor. Michael “played every facet of the game well, and people just gravitated toward him,” says Campbell. “Even the better players would look to Michael because he would pull everyone together.”

“Michael had qualities I’ve never seen in my 40 years of coaching,” says Kremer. “Everyone on the team respected him, he went hard every day, and he did all the dirty work in the most team-oriented way.” In addition, “he had this incredible ability to touch every single kid in the locker room and make them feel good about themselves.”

Off the court, Michael was no different.

After games, when the team went out to eat, Michael was the first one inviting people other kids might forget, like the student coach. And when it came time to elect a class president for senior year, says Lyon, “everyone was voting for Michael,” even though he wasn’t running.

“It’s easy to do the right thing when it’s easy,” says Lyon. “Michael did the right thing when it was tough. He chose to go the extra step to make sure everyone was included. Not to make a scene or showboat, but because he felt it was the right thing to do. I truly never have seen anybody have quite that effect on the people he was around.”

By senior year, Michael was at the top of his game. He was elected a vice captain of the school and president of the National Honor Society. He’d been chosen to lead an impactful religious retreat, Kairos, with peers. He’d been named a varsity basketball team captain and starting point guard, despite never having officially played the position. And his team was undefeated, and poised for another state run and likely win.

Then, like a bad dream, COVID descended. School went online, basketball season was cancelled, and the rest of Michael’s senior year was spent largely at home. He was profoundly disappointed at the loss of the season, but “in classic Michael fashion,” says Lyon, “he kept that silver lining on it,” focusing more on the journey than on “State Championship or Bust.”

At home that final semester of his senior year, Michael and his family played pickleball, did puzzles, and took online classes alongside one another. “It gave us so much time with each other,” Anna would later say to Callie—a cherished gift despite the circumstances.

Still, Michael kept a watchful eye over those he loved. When Callie first introduced her now-husband, Bill, to the kids, Michael was friendly but “very protective,” says Callie, and whenever they went out, “he would wait up until I got home.”

Just before graduation, Michael was awarded the school’s highest honor: being named the 2020 Man of Moeller. Because of COVID, his graduation was recorded on video. The footage of Michael walking down the hall, fist-bumping teachers, smiling, in a cap and gown and with his family trailing behind “was the biggest gift,” says Callie.

When it came time to choose a college, Michael looked past offers from more prestigious schools and stuck instead with the University of Dayton, where both his grandparents and parents had met. After Callie helped Michael get settled there in August, he quickly began getting out and making friends.

In the third week of September, Callie asked Michael to come home for Anna’s volleyball senior day, but he said, “I really want to stay here.” Michael never explained why, but Callie knew that after missing out on so much of his senior year because of COVID, “He was so happy, and having a great time with college and friendships, and actually just being a kid.” She didn’t press him, she says, but “as the parent, I look back and there are so many what-ifs…” Her voice trails off.


The night after Anna’s senior game, Michael and some friends at Dayton were doing what college kids do. After going out to a bar until 11, they headed to another friend’s house to watch a movie. At 2 a.m., Michael and a friend said they were hungry and headed back to their dorm to order a pizza from a place off campus called Cousin Vinnie’s.

Michael’s roommate had already ordered three pizzas for delivery when Michael asked him to order three more to be picked up. Security cameras captured footage of Michael and a roommate leaving the dorm just before 3 a.m., but ultimately Michael set out for Cousin Vinnie’s, a 13-minute walk north, alone.

At 3:09 a.m., in a text chat with a roommate, Michael gave his location, which was 12 minutes south of the dorm—the wrong direction. When his phone ran out of power at 3:17, location services showed him back near his dorm. Shortly after that, video footage from a nearby house showed a man matching Michael’s description—black athletic shorts and a gray T-shirt—jogging on a side street, this time heading north toward Cousin Vinnie’s. To this day, no one really knows what happened next.

Roughly 10 minutes later, at 3:28 a.m., Leilani Hyatt was driving to work third shift at the Walmart on Wilmington Pike when she turned the corner onto Wayne Avenue and saw something. She called 911, saying there was “a teenager, maybe” in the middle of the road. When Hyatt got out to check, she saw a pool of blood around the young man’s head. She also said one of his shoes was off, tossed, along with a cell phone, nearby. When police and an ambulance arrived, they found the young man barely alive and unconscious, and used his student ID and license to identify him as Michael Currin.

At Miami Valley Hospital, ER doctors discovered Michael had suffered a critical brain hemorrhage brought on by a fracture in his skull. When they couldn’t reach Callie, they called the Montgomery police department and asked them to go to her house. Time, they knew, was of the essence.

When Callie finally arrived, Michael was cleaned up, but on life support and still unconscious. The doctors and medical staff—“angels,” Callie says—were “encouraging surgery to relieve swelling on the brain. I remember the nurses being very powerful in saying: Do everything you can, because there’s always hope.

Soon, Michael’s high school coaches, his friends from Cincinnati and Dayton, and even the university’s president showed up. So many people came, they had to move outside, because of COVID hospital rules. “It was pretty much a vigil,” says Teresa Cracas, one of Joe’s older sisters—hundreds of people all waiting, hoping, and praying.

When the family finally got to see him, reality hit hard. “I just remember thinking My God, he’s not there,” says Cracas of the first time she saw Michael that day. “I don’t think Callie left his side from that moment on.”

As they all continued to pray and hold their collective breath, the Dayton Police arrived on the scene asking questions; by day’s end, they’d opened an investigation. Michael remained unconscious.

“I remember trying to be very clear that we were praying for a miracle and believe in a miracle but also trying not to give false hope,” says Callie. Particularly haunting to so many, she knew, was “the belief that Michael was so strong and had so much more work left to do.”

Word of his condition spread. The story was covered by major media outlets in both Dayton and Cincinnati. Cracas and Callie’s brother-in-law, both attorneys, used Moeller’s communications system to issue updates on Michael’s status.

On Sunday, Moeller’s varsity soccer coach, who also owns a screen printing shop, remembered a video the school had commissioned, where Michael told the story of his father’s death and those final words: Keep Going. He immediately had T-shirts made up for the soccer team with Keep Going 25 on them, referencing Michael’s basketball jersey number. The phrase took on a life of its own.

Moeller students painted “Keep Going” on a white sheet and hung it on a statue in front of the school. Similar painted sheets sprang up on the front porches of houses at UD, where students held a candlelight vigil. Keep Going yard signs appeared all over Montgomery.

By Sunday evening, doctors told Callie Michael’s brain stem had herniated, an indication the damage was irreparable. “But the doctor wanted to run tests the next day, just to be sure,” says Cracas. They tried everything to get him to respond but by Monday, doctors gave the family devastating news: Michael would not live without life support. Callie called in family and friends to say goodbye.

Because Michael had checked the box to be an organ donor on his driver’s license, doctors and nurses lined the halls of the hospital in silence—“no words, except you can see some crying,” says Callie—as the Currin family made the “Hero’s Walk” to the operating room where surgeons would remove his organs for donation. The only sound was music, the song “Up,” by Thomas Rhett, which Michael played once for Callie when they were riding in the car.

During that walk, Callie says she felt comforted by the fact that Michael’s last act was giving someone else a chance at life. Strangely, she says, it was also the first time since Sunday she felt Michael looked like himself again—a tragically appropriate, if entirely unwelcome, end for a young man who had given so much to so many.


On Tuesday, September 23, an anonymous witness finally came forward with information about what had happened to Michael. A 31-year-old gutter installer and yoga instructor named Kyler Carlile had apparently been telling someone how he and a friend, 30-year-old Grant Dahm, had given a boy a ride in the back of Carlile’s pickup truck Saturday night, but when they had stopped, the boy was gone.

Police immediately tracked down Carlile and brought him in for questioning. Carlile told police he, Dahm, and a 23-year-old woman named Stephanie, whose last name he claimed not to know, but was McKellop, were all driving to Dahm’s parked car Saturday night when they came upon Michael, who was asking for directions to Cousin Vinnie’s Pizza.

Michael was “well spoken,” “composed,” and “not drunk,” said Carlile, but he seemed “very young and out of place.” Dahm, who later admitted to being “heavily intoxicated” that night, allegedly offered to drive Michael to pick up the pizza after Carlile took him to his car, which was apparently parked in the opposite direction of Cousin Vinnie’s. Michael, they say, agreed and climbed into the bed of Carlile’s truck.

When they arrived at Dahm’s car, Carlile, Dahm, and McKellop all said Michael was no longer in the truck. Carlile said he had no idea what had happened, never saw Michael again, and didn’t know Michael had died.

But McKellop, whom police picked up from her job at Chipotle, said she and Carlile had retraced their steps in the car after they dropped off Dahm and saw Michael laying in the street. She said they also saw a woman who had stopped and was getting out of her car near his body. She said she wanted to stop but Carlile refused, saying the woman would help Michael.

On the recording of Hyatt’s 911 call, she says that, as she began getting out of her car to see who was in the road, a pickup truck drove by, slowing down, but not stopping. Video from near where Michael was found shows a dark truck similar to Carlile’s heading east on Wayne at 3:28 a.m. and then west on Wayne roughly two minutes later.

By week’s end, media outlets had access to the 911 call and published that Michael “had accepted a ride from a male driver of a pickup truck,” was seated in the truck’s bed, and had fallen into the roadway. (Later, the pathologist conducting the autopsy would note that Currin’s injuries were consistent with someone falling from a motor vehicle in motion.) But still, no one knew if Michael had chosen to get into the truck, if he had been coerced, or if something else altogether different had happened. The Dayton police continued their investigation, while everyone else struggled to make sense of it all.

“You can deal with a dumb decision. You can deal with somebody did a sinful act. You deal with what you know,” says Campbell, “but that uncertainty left people hurting even more.”


“I don’t think there really are words to describe it,” says Lyon of the immediate aftermath of Michael’s death. “Everybody was just lost. He would have been the one person that people would have looked to, which made it all the worse.”

Back home, planning the funeral, Anna found a prayer card on Michael’s mirror. God causes things to happen at exactly the right time! It began. Your job is not to figure out when, but to make up your mind that you won’t give up until you cross the finish line and are living in radical, outrageous blessings of God! The more you trust Jesus and keep your eyes focused on Him, the more you’ll have. Trusting God brings life. Believing brings rest. So stop trying to figure everything out, and let God be God in your life. Callie had it printed on a 3-inch by 5-inch card with Michael’s photo.

Moeller hosted Michael’s wake, just as they had hosted Joe’s 10 years prior. Inside the gym, Callie, Bill, the kids, and Clive, their golden retriever, stood with Michael’s closed casket behind them as upwards of 5,000 people waited hours in line to pay respects. “The grace Callie showed was extraordinary,” says Cracas.

The funeral, at All Saints, was restricted in size because of COVID. Anna gave the eulogy with just as much composure and grace as Callie had at the wake, speaking about how Michael was a fierce competitor who made sure his younger siblings did their chores. She also spoke about how he was fun, grateful, humble, and “unapologetically himself.” Afterwards, John and Drew, who flanked her on the altar, said, “We will always love you, Michael. Keep going.”

When the family emerged from the church, they found students lining the parking lot, arms outstretched “almost like a soccer tunnel,” says Cracas, as the funeral procession made its way onto Montgomery Road.

“I kept thinking: Surely when we pass Moeller it will be done. Surely when we pass downtown Montgomery it will be done,” she says, but the line of people stretched along the entire 3.7-mile route to Gate of Heaven. “We knew in that moment how loved he was.”

Later that night, Callie, Bill, and the kids were at home when they saw lights flickering. When the family stepped outside, they once again found themselves speechless. The entire neighborhood, as far they could see, was lined with luminaria—tiny twinkling lights in paper bags that had been placed by family friends.

“You’re in your darkest moment, in a moment you can’t believe you’ve had to walk through— burying your son, having to let him go,” says Callie, when you suddenly find yourself surrounded by hundreds of small flickering lights. “It was this show of support and it didn’t ask anything of me of me or the family. It was hope, it was light, and it was love.”


After a roughly three-month investigation, Dayton prosecutors charged Kyler Carlile with vehicular homicide and failure to stop after an accident; he pleaded no contest to the former and guilty to the latter. McKellop and Dahm were not charged.

Carlile was indicted and ordered to serve five years’ probation and 30 days incarceration on weekends. His driver’s license was suspended for two years, and he was ordered to reimburse Callie for funeral costs.

Prosecutors likely saw the sentence as the best possible outcome given the available evidence, the fact that Carlile fled the scene and the fact they were operating with only one side of the story. To this day, no one knows what actually happened to Michael when he encountered Carlile, Dahm, and McKellop the night he died.

Some people are fixated on whether and how much Michael was drinking. “I don’t really care,” says Campbell. “He wasn’t a saint. He was a kid. And if he drank, he was like everybody else. But that wouldn’t change who he was. He was an exceptional kid. Part of it is just coming to grips with: We wish we had longer.

When asked if he feels angry sometimes about how Michael died, Lyon says, without hesitation, no. “That’s not what Michael would have done. That’s one thing I felt about this the whole time. If Michael is on the other side of this with one of his best friends, it wouldn’t have been anger, it would have been: How do we move forward? How do we remember and celebrate this person? How do we keep going?

Shortly after Michael’s death, one of his professors at Dayton reached out to Callie, saying she had a video homework assignment Michael recorded days before his death. “One proverb that has always meant something to me is: Enjoy it while it lasts,” Michael says in the video, sitting on the lower bunk bed with a sunny window behind. He talks about being sad when his senior year basketball season was cut short, but says, “I’ll never forget all the memories and friendships I made along the way. So always live in the moment like it’s your last, because you never know when it actually could be.”

A short time later, Campbell found an audio recording of Michael on his computer. In 2019, he’d been a chaperone on the Kairos retreat where Michael was a leader. On Kairos, nothing is ever recorded for any reason. But Campbell had to leave early on the day Michael was going to speak, so he made an exception. “Another teacher set their iPhone on the podium and recorded it. In the busyness of things,” says Campbell, “I never listened to it.” Soon after Michael’s death, he did.

In the speech, Michael encourages his peers to “embrace challenges” and to “shine a light for the whole world to see.” He tells the story of his dad’s death, how it had been the “lowest of lows,” but how it had given him words to guide his life. And then he speaks directly to the boys at Kairos. Only it sounds, says Campbell, like he is speaking to everyone who dearly loved him, one last time.

Hold yourselves to a higher standard, Michael says. Be leaders for others. Continue to be you…

There will be times where there might be something bad that happens to you and you might think: Where is God in my life? But you can’t give up hope. Keep going in life, striving to be the best person you can possibly be. As Alfred says to Bruce Wayne: “Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

Things are going to get in your way but don’t let them bog you down. Never give up.… Christ works mysteriously in all our lives, through different people and in different events.… The faces of God are in the people around you. Make sure you’re looking for that and appreciating all those people that are helping you in your life.…

“I love you 3,000,” he says at the very end. “I mean every word of that.”


The Keep Going 25 Foundation honors Michael and Joe with events that include sponsoring the 25th Mile at the 2023 Flying Pig Marathon.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE CURRIN FAMILY

Michael’s grave sits in a plot of grass beside his father’s and his grandparents’ at the cemetery. Traffic on the nearby highway is a steady roar in the background, a constant reminder that life goes on, speeding past, even when it feels like maybe it shouldn’t.

Back at the house in Montgomery, Drew is a senior at Moeller now and Anna and John are in college. After the passage of so many years, Callie reflects back on all that has happened in a rare moment of visible, raw pain. “I always say I would rather have the love and the experiences with both Joe and Michael than to never know that love,” she says. “And I do think that our children are a gift to us for a time. When I sent Michael to college, there was this idea in my head: Life will never be the same.

“It’s hard to live for the living,” she continues, “because we miss our life as it was, we miss what could have been. But you can’t live scared. You have a choice with how you respond. While I’m here, I’m not going to give up.”

After the funeral, the Currins learned Moeller had collected somewhere around $150,000 in donations for Michael and the family. “We felt the power of it,” says Cracas. “While Michael was still fighting for his life, this whole rally cry, Keep Going 25, just organically appeared. We had this brand, this rallying cry, this money, and all this emotion and passion and grief. We wanted to pay tribute to him and to all these hundreds of people who stood along Montgomery Road. It was clearly bigger than anything we could know.”

Shortly after Michael’s funeral, Callie, Cracas, Anna, John, and Drew decided to establish the KEEP GOING 25 Foundation, focused on leadership and character-building—two traits that defined Michael’s life. Anna hashed out many of the original details for her Senior Capstone project at MND; the intent was to work with kids.

All Saints School was the foundation’s first grant recipient. The school uses the funds for character-building and service-learning projects, like sponsoring a cheering station for the 25th mile at the 2023 Flying Pig Marathon, which celebrated its 25th anniversary that year.

Today, KEEP GOING 25 is an official 501(c)3 nonprofit that funds, sponsors, and supports service-learning programs for young people, ages 10–25, throughout Cincinnati and Dayton, including a meet-up at the annual Turkey Trot, a sand volleyball tournament, a pickleball social fundraiser in July around Michael’s birthday, and a December event called Illumi-NITE. Inspired by the luminaria that gave the family such comfort after Michael’s funeral, Illumi-NITE gives children an opportunity to lift up others by placing pop-up luminary displays at the homes of people going through hard times.

Describing Illumi-NITE to All Saints students for the first time, Callie said, “You showed up for me and you were a light to me on that day, giving me hope. I will never forget that moment.

“When you serve,” she added, “you’re not only showing empathy and showing up for people, you yourself are blessed in ways that make such a difference.”

Like ripples in a pond, the keep going message has spread far beyond greater Cincinnati as the foundation continues to grow. “We have a couple players in the NBA,” says Kremer, and “a bunch in college basketball.” Almost to a man, they’ve got Michael’s words, keep going, inscribed on tattoos or their social media or their shoes or clothes.

“For 12 years Michael really felt like he had to shoulder those words and that weight of his father himself,” says Lyon. “It was never about How many people can I help? It was just doing the right thing every day, bringing that smile, that energy, that light. And now there are thousands of people doing it. It’s like it’s being passed on, from him to everybody else.”

ILLUSTRATION BY CAMELIA PHAM

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