Above: La Salle’s Mark Dannhausen holding a photo of his dad John “Jack” Dannhausen and Mark when he was 2. Mark Dannhausen dad past away from Alzheimers disease before the Lancers game against Cantwell two weeks ago. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
It was an early Friday morning when La Salle High School’s Mark Dannhausen was getting ready for school and preparing for what was supposed to be a big day for him and the Lancers football team.
Dannhausen instead carried on with a heavy heart.
Two weeks ago, La Salle was in a must-win situation and desperately needed a win over Cantwell Sacred Heart to keep its CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division playoff hopes alive.
Even then, the game was a distant afterthought.
Not far across town, Mark’s mother, Lynn, had just arrived at Regency Park, an assisted living home in Pasadena where she was visiting Mark’s father, John “Jack” Dannhausen. He had been living there since 2005, four years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
John’s condition worsened as of late, to the point where Lynn, Mark and his older sisters Leigh and Michele spent the entire day beside him and preparing for the worst.
“We were informed it would be a lot slower before he’d be gone,” Lynn recalled.
Only 10 minutes had passed since Lynn arrived to visit her husband of 30 years when she saw John – the man she met the summer of 1978 and married a year later – take his final breath.
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“I got the call at home,” Mark recalled. “It was pretty hectic. Mom called saying we needed to come to the assisted living center because `We think he just passed away.’ The entire day pretty much got worse, but it was definitely tougher in the beginning.”
Mark made it to school later that day, but the news had spread. La Salle football coach Antoine Peterson pulled Mark to the side just before heading into chapel, hours before kickoff. Peterson looked into Mark’s eyes and asked if he was ready. Without any hesitation, Mark said yes and sent a text to his mom that he would play.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I would have used this excuse to sit on the sidelines,” Mark said. “I would have regretted it.”
He had the game of his life in converting a 35-yard field goal, all six extra points and having no kickoffs returned in La Salle’s 45-35 win.
“Definitely the best game of my career at La Salle,” Mark admitted.
John, 60, always smiled and “spoiled the kids rotten,” as Lynn says.
“They all had a TV in their room and a stereo,” she said. “Part of his upbringing was not with a lot of money and they were a big family. He was determined to make a good living and make good money and not live that way.”
John and Lynn met in the summer of 1978 in Los Angeles. That year, the law firm John worked for merged with the firm Lynn worked for as a business manager.
“We met and he stayed,” said Lynn, who married John in August of 1979. “We kind of figured it out pretty fast.”
John was smart and a classic prankster. But more importantly, he was a devoted father who despite a rigorous work schedule found time to be involved with his kids.
“He was the kind of guy where his kids were his world,” Mark said. “He tried to be a coach for every sport we were in.”
That he started coaching, which literally came as a surprise.
Leigh was 4 when John signed her up to play AYSO. Unbeknownst to John, Lynn’s sister signed him up to coach the team.
“When they call you to ask if you’ll coach he got the call,” Lynn recalled. “He said, `I didn’t sign up for that.’ He ended up taking the classes and coached from then on.”
You name it, John was there – soccer, T-ball, softball or baseball. And if he wasn’t coaching, John somehow was involved.
During a soccer tournament one rainy November afternoon, Mark was running back to his car freezing and his uniform was soaked.
“I was at Muir,” Lynn recalled. “Our daughters were playing and were soaked to the skin.”
“I was freezing and dad had a box of Turkey tournament T-shirts,” Mark said, smiling. “He told me to get in the back seat and cover myself underneath the pile of T-shirts and use them as blankets until we got home for a hot bath. There was a hot bath waiting and he threw me in, with full uniform and everything.”
Then the early signs of Alzheimer’s surfaced. In 1999, John was asked to step down as partner at the law firm Parker Stanbury.
“I’m sure it was because of his memory loss,” Lynn said. “But he didn’t get diagnosed until a couple years after that. We spent some time with psychologists who thought he was just depressed, but that wasn’t the problem.”
“Mom started noticing the signs when he started forgetting how to coach soccer and doing normal things around the house,” Mark said.
For the last two years, Mark has been an integral part of the Lancers’ lineup.
But for the last two years, John was confined to a wheelchair, which meant he never saw Mark step on the same field he’d seen his girls run around.
John slowly started losing weight the last few years and his strength deteriorated. By then, his voice was gone, too.
At 10, Mark felt he stopped knowing his dad. His sisters try to bring back vivid memories, but it’s not easy.
“Sometimes specific memories don’t have the same appeal,” Leigh said. “”You can’t tell him a whole memory with sensation, sight and sound or the emotion behind a memory.”
Lynn and her daughters will hop on the bus Friday night and travel 174 miles north when La Salle visits St. Joseph of Santa Maria in the first round of Northwest Division playoffs.
Lynn’s voice is lifted by excitement of the thought Mark will get to play one more game, evidence that resilience truly is a gift. Mark’s determined to make it better than his last game, although he’s just happy his father now gets to watch him from above.
Perhaps coaching, too.