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Legacy of triumph through tragedy lives on

$100,000 scholarship fund established by brother will keep his sister's memory alive

David Colburn
Posted 9/17/21

COOK – It’s been over 20 years since DeDe Desannoy Tuuri Kaml passed from this world after battling breast cancer, and almost 40 years since a tragic snowmobile accident on Lake Vermilion …

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Legacy of triumph through tragedy lives on

$100,000 scholarship fund established by brother will keep his sister's memory alive


COOK – It’s been over 20 years since DeDe Desannoy Tuuri Kaml passed from this world after battling breast cancer, and almost 40 years since a tragic snowmobile accident on Lake Vermilion took the lives of her first husband and two young sons. But time will not forget her legacy of perseverance, hope, and love of family and friends thanks to a new scholarship fund in her name established by her best friend, her brother Mick.
College scholarships for North Woods School students will be awarded beginning in 2022 from a $100,000 fund set up by Mick Desannoy and administered by the Cook Lions Club. Three scholarships of $3,000 will be awarded annually to students attending either a technical/trade school or college.
“My sister DeDe and I were always really close through high school and even college,” Desannoy said in a prepared statement. “She attended Moorhead State majoring in biology and I in pharmacy across the Red River in Fargo. She was my best friend and was always there for me and I for her.”
About DeDe
DeDe and Mick grew up together in Tower, the daughter and son of a businessman and a homemaker. DeDe and her first husband, dentist William “Butch” Tuuri, were married in St. Martin's Catholic Church in Tower in 1974.
After they both completed college, the couple moved to Cook, where Butch started his dental practice at the Cook Clinic. His sister, Judith Ulseth, of Cook, remembers the first time she met DeDe.
“She flowed into my life on a sunny spring day right after we had our second child,” Ulseth said. “DeDe, this new person I’d never met, hopped up on my bed, red curly hair bright against her white lace ruffled shirt with brown velvet pants. She asked me question upon question in marvel with the new baby. She did not forget to lavish attention on our oldest son, Wade. Her concern for me was startling and warm. That was DeDe, always thinking of others.”
Ulseth said that the young couple first lived with her parents, Oiva and Gladys Tuuri, on Lake Vermilion.
“Then they bought an old trailer home on a lot down the lake on an old logging road called Phillips Road,” Ulseth said. “That’s where they lived until they were expecting their second baby.”
Butch and DeDe had two sons, Will and Luke, who were two years apart, and there was nothing more important in their lives, Ulseth said.
“They were both very good with children, such a good match, the two of them, and they were very good parents,” she said. “If you were visiting with them and Will came home from school, all conversations stopped and they sat and visited with Will. She constantly had fun things for them to do, and it was just so natural to her. She would always sit down with children and talk to them, no matter whose child it was.”
But DeDe’s happy family life came crashing down on a March day in 1983 when Butch took the boys, now five and three, for a snowmobile ride on the lake. When they hadn’t returned by nightfall, DeDe and one of Judith’s uncles jumped on a snowmobile and followed Butch’s tracks onto the lake. What they discovered was horrifying. Butch’s snowmobile had fallen through the ice, and he and both boys had drowned.
“March 19, 1983, when her family drowned on Lake Vermilion near their home after their snowmobile went thru the ice was a devastating day for her, her families, many friends and myself,” said Desannoy in his statement. “They say losing a child is the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent but DeDe lost her entire family, both children and her husband.”
It was then that DeDe’s faith as a Jehovah’s Witness came to the fore as she tried to cope with her devastating loss, Ulseth said.
“She never felt sorry for herself or cried out ‘why did this happen’ to her, but quietly would mourn privately,” Desannoy said. “I remember my mother told me when staying with DeDe after the accident that she would take long walks by herself. After coming back my mother would check her jacket pockets and the kleenex was wet from tears. She always carried the “hope” of seeing them again. DeDe’s strong will and ability to ‘move on’ was amazing to me and she truly was my hero.”
And while she was grieving privately, DeDe was also reaching out to support other family and friends. Equally affected by the tragedy was the Tuuri family, and Ulseth said DeDe and her mother became extremely close in the months and years following the accident.
Eventually, DeDe found new love and marriage with Frank “Frankie” Kaml Jr., a man 15 years her junior that she and Butch had once given rides to on the lake. The couple became close during the times Kaml came over to work on various things around the home DeDe moved to after the accident.
“She said, ‘I have been so lucky. I’ve been loved by two wonderful men. How could anybody have a better life than that?’” Ulseth said.
But the couple’s life together was destined to last just 12 years. In 1998, DeDe was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was bad enough they had to do a full mastectomy, but it metastasized,” Ulseth said. "She only lived 18 months from diagnosis to death.”
But throughout this second ordeal, DeDe continued to be a light to all those around her, Ulseth said.
“I am so proud of her and really miss her,” Desannoy said. “So much more can be said. I have spent the past year trying to figure out some kind of memorial for her and I feel this academic scholarship at the Cook school where they were raising their children would be appropriate. I felt that an essay on the ‘importance of good friends and family’ written by students applying for the scholarship would be good for them to write about if nothing else than to reinforce such ideals throughout their lives.”
Students should contact the guidance office at North Woods School for complete details about the DDTK Scholarship and how to apply.


2 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Mark Josephson

If Butch attended Mesabi State Junior College around 1968-1970, I recall a great kid, a serious student, and a fun guy to be around. Our educational paths went literally and figuratively in different scientific and geographical directions after Mesabi, and I was deeply saddened to read about this tragedy this morning. DeDe, was a strong, courageous woman and beautiful human being!

Judith and Mick, thank you for giving us a glimpse of this bittersweet story. And Mick, what a wonderful way to keep the memory of DeDe alive by inspire students to excel.

Saturday, September 18
Mark Josephson

EDITOR: Please change inspire to inspiring. Darn autocorrect!

Saturday, September 18