‘Be like Marnie’ is message Mackin family preaches to others

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | December 18, 2019

Marnie Mackin, who died in October, was inspiration to many

ALLOUEZ — When Mike Mackin wrote the eulogy for his daughter, Marnie, he had no intention of providing a teaching moment for those in attendance at the funeral Mass at Resurrection Church.

Family camping trips are a tradition for the Mackin family. Pictured are, bottom from left, Marnie and Mike Mackin; top from left, Patrick Mackin, Ty and Anne (Mackin) Emanuel, Teresa (Mackin) and Dave Grande, and Julie Mackin. Marnie died on Oct. 27 at age 32. Mike, her father, delivered the eulogy at her funeral, incorporating the theme, “Be like Marnie” in response to the way his daughter lived her life and treated other people. (Mackin Family Photo | Special To The Compass)

“I wanted to share about Marnie; that’s it,” he said.

Mike not only told her story, but in sharing how his daughter lived her life, he called on people to “Be like Marnie.”

“We can all be nicer to people. That’s what I tried to say in the eulogy,” he explained.

Marnie Mackin, 32, died on Oct. 27. She had been dealing with health issues for weeks, but was able to travel to Indianapolis for her nephew Jack’s birthday party. Her death was unexpected. Marnie, the second of four children, never received an official medical diagnosis as a child, but she was “slow to meet milestones,” said Julie, her mother.

“I would just say, ‘She is learning at her own rate,’” explained Julie. “She started to have seizures at age 5. The school system wanted to label her as ‘cognitively disabled,’ but I was a mother who advocated for her daughter. I knew better. She could learn and wasn’t going to be held back. We got the label changed to OHI, ‘Other Health Impaired.’ The (epileptic) seizures were well controlled with meds.”

Marnie had her own way of describing herself. Her words were shared in her obituary.

“I believe God made me the way I am for a reason,” she said. “I often wonder why God made me with a disability. It’s not a disability, though. It’s the ability to be different, and I truly thank God for it every day.”

Marnie was never held back. In the eulogy, Mike shared that Marnie rode a horse up a mountain, swam with dolphins, gave a beautiful maid of honor speech at her sister’s wedding, lived alone, took the bus to work and was a multi-time Special Olympics state champion in basketball, volleyball and swimming. She camped, backpacked, canoed and kayaked. She was also a cross country skier and zip-lined in the Rocky Mountains with her brother, Patrick, and Julie.

“She was fearless,” said Mike. “Don’t say what you can’t do; say what you can do. And Marnie did. I say, ‘Be like Marnie.’”

Marnie was 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighed approximately 96 pounds, so her fearlessness was often difficult for her parents.

“That was scary to me,” said Julie. “For the Special Olympics team, they don’t group you according to age, sex or ability. She played basketball against some guys who were over six-feet and over 200 pounds. She would be underneath them, swatting the ball away. They called her the ‘Marninator.’ Mack (Mike) taught her that, ‘You get five fouls, so use them.’”

Her Special Olympics volleyball teammates passed on playing in the state tournament in Milwaukee to attend the funeral. They filled a section of the church, outfitted in their red jerseys.

Marnie’s skills as a long distance swimmer began at Green Bay Southwest High School, where she was a member of the swim team.

Mike and Julie Mackin, members of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, are pictured in their home holding hats with the “Be Like Marnie” logo. At their daughter Marnie’s funeral Mass, Mike incorporated the theme as he described her spirit for life. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“She could be with everybody else and have friends,” said Julie. “They put messages on lockers. She was part of a nice team. That was a great experience for her. She went from Southwest, being one of the last ones to come in for an event, to being a star in Special Olympics.”

The day-to-day tasks, including navigating the public transit system, also brought some parental fear, admits Julie.

“You want them to be independent, but it’s a gradual process,” she said. “I never wanted her to know that I was scared because I always said, ‘You can do it. It’s just going to take time.’ I was nervous a lot, but you can’t hold people back.”

The Mackins have been members of Resurrection Parish for 27 years. Marnie was a member of the church choir and ministered as a cantor and altar server.

Marnie’s life was not only defined by the things she did, but how she interacted with people, said Mike.

“Marnie won the gift of looking at life through rose-colored glasses,” he said in the eulogy. “She always saw the good in people, never the bad, and never said anything negative about someone.

“She won the gift of being your friend the second you met her,” he added.

Marnie was active on social media. She would wish people a happy birthday on Facebook the day before their birthday, because she wanted to be the first person to do so.

“I was so worried about (Facebook),” said Julie. “She did well. She had the privacy settings and always made positive comments.”

The Mackins received an abundance of cards at the funeral and during the weeks that followed. Marnie’s sisters, Teresa Grande and Anne Emanuel, assisted with thank you cards. Donations in Marnie’s name will support Special Olympics and Camp Daniel in Athelstane, Wis., a summer camp that Marnie attended throughout the years.

“We are still getting cards,” said Julie, who became a special education teacher in her second career because of her daughter. “We received 10 a day the first week. It’s so nice. The cards are amazing.”

“If you read any of the cards, people share that she was ‘a light, a shining light,’” said Mike.

Marnie’s cat, Oreo Michael Jordan Mason, named for her father and two favorite Green Bay Packers, now lives with Mike and Julie. Mike carries the holy card from her funeral, which features Marnie’s handwriting, with him at all times. “Be Like Marnie” hats, created by a friend/neighbor, are also a reminder of her spirit for life. A group of Mike’s friends donned the hats immediately after the funeral. Mike knew about the blue and white baseball style hats prior to the funeral, so he incorporated the theme throughout the eulogy.

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