It was an emotional night for Leslie Hillman and Patrick Keane as East Ridge and Woodbury played their annual football rivalry game Oct. 4.
Along with the game, it was Tackle Cancer night as the two teams came together to support families, friends and residents around the community that are battling cancer.
The night was dedicated to Dennis J. Keane, who died in January due to kidney cancer. Keane's wife, Hillman, and son, Patrick Keane, remembered many moments throughout their lives with him. From sporting events and traveling the country to simple moments in the house, Dennis will be remembered for many different aspects of his life.
“It means a lot that they dedicated the game for Dennis,” Hillman said. “It’s been unbelievable to know how many people in this community knew Dennis and appreciated all the things he did for this city.”
Keane wasn’t a shy person. Hillman described him as an opposite to herself because she’s a little more reserved, while Keane talked to everyone and always enjoyed being busy with different activities.
His life didn’t start in Minnesota as he was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and went to Drake University. While in Des Moines, Keane met Hillman and the two of them fell in love and moved to Sartell, Minn.
"That's where I grew up, so we moved up there before we got married," Hillman said. "You know the saying, 'never marry a Minnesota girl because you'll end up in Minnesota.'"
Well, they did end up in Minnesota and had their only child, Patrick, there as well. They lived in Sartell for about seven years and when Patrick was about to go into kindergarten they moved to Woodbury.
Hillman started a new job in the Twin Cities area and had a difficult commute from St. Cloud to the cities. The move had to happen because she wanted to spend more time at home with the family instead of commuting.
"She would drive to Big Lake, then take a train to Target Field," Patrick said. "There was a car at the Target Field ramp and drive the rest of the way there."
They finally moved into their Woodbury house and it felt like the right place for everyone. Patrick had plenty of opportunities to pursue sports, while Hillman had an easier commute. Keane jumped right into the community when they moved as he was more of a stay-at-home dad for the majority of the time in Woodbury.
Patrick plays football, hockey and baseball with the East Ridge Athletic Association, so Dennis started joining boards and coaching his teams.
Patrick said Keane was the type of dad that would let everyone play on the team and in new positions and always made sure each kid had a ride to get to the game.
"It was fun having him as a coach because he was able to help me in each sport," Patrick said. "Anytime I got home from school, we would go outside and throw a baseball or football."
Hillman learned a lot about sports through Patrick and Keane, especially since she went to all of Patrick's sporting events throughout the year. Mainly, they loved hanging out as a family.
Along with sports, Keane was a great cook and would have food ready to go when Patrick and Hillman came home. They would eat as a family before everyone had to go to practices, games or other events throughout the week.
They also loved to travel and went to many different places around the country. The highlights were Hawaii and Arizona.
Hawaii was a fun place that all three of them fell in love with the first time and always wanted to go back. Arizona was home to a lot of relatives as well as spring training baseball. The family would go down there every spring break and spend most of the trip at different stadiums and watch baseball. Patrick said he was a Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins fan, but they would go to any baseball game.
Hillman learned quickly that a baseball game wasn't just a game. Patrick and Keane left four hours before the game started so they could get in line and meet the players and have the full spring training experience.
The signed baseballs, baseball cards and photos are still in their Woodbury house and kept as memories.
The three of them always stuck together through the good and bad times. In November 2018, Keane wasn't feeling good and didn't really want to do anything.
Patrick noticed he wasn't his outgoing self as he stayed home and seemed more tired than usual. Hillman said he had a cough that seemed like it was getting worse.
They decided to get tested for pneumonia and a doctor treated him. After a week, it wasn't getting any better and the doctor suggested that he should get scanned to see if there was fluid on his lungs.
During this scan, they found fluid but they also found a tumor on his kidney and thought it could potentially be cancerous.
"He felt better once they took the fluids out of his lungs," Patrick said. "But he still felt off."
After some tests and biopsy, they confirmed that he had renal cell carcinoma, which is cancer in the kidneys. Hillman said this form of cancer is usually a slower type and usually responds to treatment.
The problem was that it didn't respond to treatment and ultimately after one treatment and the antibiotics used, it shut down Keane's kidneys. Once he knew the kidneys were shutting down, he wanted to go back home and be with his family.
He came back home for a couple of days and died Jan. 16, 2019. It was very quick from when he was diagnosed at the beginning of December.
During his funeral, Hillman was taken back by how many people came and supported the family. She didn't realize how many people were part of his life in the community and outside of it too.
"I don't think we realized how people he had touched during his life," Patrick said. "It's meant a lot to us to have this great community supporting us and having this game dedicated to him."
Keane will always have a special place in the hearts of Hillman and Patrick, but he'll also be in the hearts of many residents in the community. He will be remembered for his outgoing personality, his love for sports and traveling, his love of being a husband and father and his passion for making a difference in his community.