Kelsey Hoffman is probably the biggest fan of Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood you’ll ever find yet even though she’s a Sioux Falls area girl, she won’t be seated in the audience at any of their 9 shows at the Sanford Premier center this week and next.
No, she plans to actually be back stage helping the concert crews with anything and everything that needs doing.
Let’s go back ten years to when I first learned of this special Garth Brooks-Kelsey Hoffman bond.
Our grandson, Taylor Smith, graduated with Kelsey in 2007 from West Central High in Hartford. After the ceremony they..and two other classmates..wanted to have their reception together so their parents rented the American Legion Hall. As we were all sitting at tables enjoying coffee and cookies, I noticed a guy wearing a big black hat entering the building. “That looks like Garth Brooks,” I said. And I was right..but what in the world was he doing in this little town and this little graduation reception?
Seventeen years ago, the world couldn’t have looked much bleaker for Anita Hoffman of Hartford. Her husband, Dale, was sick and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
He was eventually diagnosed with Antiphospholipid Syndrome..a rare type of blood disorder that required treatment at the Mayo Clinic. The prognosis wasn’t good.
While still reeling from the possibility of losing Dale, the couple’s ten year old daughter, Kelsey, started complaining of headaches.
A trip to the doctor confirmed she had brain cancer and needed to begin treatments right away.
For several months, Anita and her other daughter, Robin, were making trips between hospitals in Rochester, Minnesota for Dale and Sioux Falls for Kelsey.
Amid this sea of despair came a single bright spot. Kelsey’s dream of meeting country music superstar, Garth Brooks, was going to come true through the Make a Wish foundation. So the whole family, including Dale, were flown to the New York Mets Spring training camp where Brooks was working out with the team.
It turned out to be..as they say..the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Brooks was so touched by little Kelsey’s smile and the whole family’s strength in facing their ordeal, he vowed to keep in touch.
He’s been true to his word.
When Dale Hoffman died, Garth Brooks dropped everything and, without any fanfare, quietly slipped into Hartford to attend the funeral and be with the family.
Kelsey has since been his invited guest to several events..including being Garth’s date for a country music award show in California.
On that day in 2007, a limousine showed up at the Hoffman house in Harftford to take Kelsey to her high school graduation. She burst into tears when out stepped her friend from Oklahoma wearing his trademark big cowboy hat.
Garth had come to be there for her special day; the same Garth Brooks who had won every major award in country music. The same Garth Brooks who ten years earlier, set an attendance record at the Sioux Falls Arena..selling out six concerts in three days? Yet here he was standing in this little reception hall smiling and greeting people.
(Garth with Kelsey 2007)
I finally got the nerve to go up and say howdy and ask him about his relationship with the Hoffman family. He just said, “I’ve never met three more powerful women in my life than Anita, Kelsey and Robin and I’ve found strength through them.”
People at the reception who initially rushed over to get an autograph and picture, need not have been in a hurry. Brooks hung around for two hours making sure to say hello and have a photo with the other four graduates, their families and guests..including grandson, Taylor. Then as unobtrusively as he entered, he quietly exited to his waiting private jet to fly back home in time to make one of his own daughter’s ballgames.
It’s easy to see why Garth was so taken with Kelsey. She is a sweetheart who has been through more than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. Yet there’s a spirit about her which is both endearing and inspirational.
“Garth has sort of been like a second dad to Kelsey,” Anita Hoffman told me.
“Whenever she needs encouragement or advice, she’ll call him and he’ll often call her out of the blue just to see how she’s doing.”
In the years since that interview, Kelsey’s mom has remarried and moved from Hartford. Kelsey’s sister, Robin, had a special visit from Garth on her graduation too. She has since married and remains in regular contact with the Brooks’ family.
All has not been smooth sailing for Kelsey, though.
Here are some excerpts from a recent interview I had with her after hearing that Garth Brooks was coming back to town and even a bigger hit with fans than the first time.
(Doug) First..how are you feeling. I heard you had a couple set backs after HS graduation?
I was diagnosed with cancer a third time my Junior year in college (2010). My doctors believed now that it was most likely caused by radiation that I had the first time around in 2000. It showed up as a bump behind my ear. I just had follow-up appointments at Mayo Clinic the end of July. It was bittersweet news as my scans were unchanged from the previous two scans but the sad news was that PEDS Oncology doesn’t feel the need to continue doing scans or continue to see me. Dr. Arndt said “We will always be here for you if anything ever comes up or you find any new bumps!” We will see PEDS Oncology one more time next year but no MRI scans as long as ENT does not need an MRI. So, super happy but bittersweet all at the same time.
I also understand that Garth came to your sister Robin’s graduation. You Hoffman’s made quite an impression apparently.
He did come to my sister Robin’s graduation. A lot has happened since I graduated from West Central High School in 2007. My mom, Anita, got remarried in 2009 to a guy in Mitchell, Terry Aaker, Robin graduated from West Central High School in 2010, shortly after that, I was diagnosed with cancer a third time.
How often do you communicate with Garth and his wife these days? Does he still invite you to shows etc?
I do call him after every trip to Mayo to update him on my health and I have seen him and Trisha several times in the last few years. Now that he is touring again I will call periodically to see if I can come help out backstage. I am not sure I really do anything important but it is fun to reconnect with people working backstage and see how everything is going in their lives.
Are you surprised that, as big a music star as he is, he continues to reach out to the Hoffman family. Why do you suppose that is?
My family and I are incredibly humbled that he keeps in such close contact with us. I think it was our family’s circumstances when we originally met him that touched his heart. My dad, Dale, was very sick along with me dealing with cancer and to see how happy and strong my Mom, Dad, Sister, and I were in dealing with our circumstances at the time helped develop and sustain our amazing bond.
Will you be attending any of his (now) nine shows in Sioux Falls?
I will most likely be running around backstage for most of the shows. I have created new friendships with the crew and have offered any help they might need while they are in the area. I enjoy spending time in the sound booth and always enjoy watching the show. He is an amazing performer but more than that he is an amazing friend and human being.
I’m reading a lot of people on Facebook and elsewhere who are critical of Garth Brooks..both his talent and marketing. What do you say to those who question his motives?
I support him because I know how incredibly talented, genuine and business smart he is. I feel like people don’t understand what artists deal with until you are actually in the moment.
I have known Trisha for a long time as well and she is just as sweet and kind as he is. They remind me of each other in their actions and what they say and do. They are both amazing, giving, sweet people and I would not give up my relationship with either of them for anything in the world.
Kelsey Hoffman is one of those people who needs no reminder to “pay it forward.” She’s a child life specialist with Sanford. She’s certainly an expert on the subject.