Leaving his Mark

This week, in a measure of extending my own personal Thanksgiving a little longer, I’m sharing my series of columns that I wrote in 2003 for The Daily Times in Ottawa, Ill., about the remarkable tale of Mark Wiebe. Mark’s story, which I also published in my 2004 book “Northern IlliNOISE: Tales of a Territory,” remains the most meaningful that I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to tell during my career. 

Leaving his Mark


June 17, 2003

Eight days ago, this “Friendly City” of ours became a little less so. Not because of anything Ottawa did, mind you. But, rather, because of what it lost:

My pal, Mark Wiebe.

This past March, I had the honor of introducing the effervescent Mark – then a junior at Ottawa Township High School – to the people of La Salle County. Today, I’m back. But, unfortunately, Mark’s not with me.

On the morning of Monday, June 9 – just 16 days after his 17th birthday – he passed away at his home on the East Side.

Since birth, Mark had been suffering from a form of muscular dystrophy known as Type I Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The disease, which paralyzes and deteriorates nearly all of the body’s voluntary muscles, is terminal and in most cases leads to death by age 2.

Mark, however, wasn’t most cases.

For nearly 17 years, he bucked the odds like a bronco. And did it in so many ways. Despite being wheelchair-bound, weighing only 40 pounds and being able to move little more than his fingers, Mark was intimately involved in poetry, marble collecting, the National Honor Society, the OTHS Student Council, the Chess Club, the choir and the hearts of everyone who knew him.

A group, which I’m proud to say, included me.

In the months after I met Mark, he and I became buddies. We’d email. We’d instant message. I’d even go over to his house to have a chat with him every now and then – when I could pull him away from his computer, that is.

Smart as a whip, Mark ran his own website and knew more about computers than Bill Gates.


Just a few weeks ago, Mark was trying to explain to me how to post something on his site. I was more clueless than Inspector Clouseau, but Mark in his typical manner was patient and thorough as I muddled through the lesson.

With his endlessly optimistic attitude, it was lessons in life that Mark provided to so many others. Even if he didn’t realize it or try to. In the days after my column about Mark ran, I received several emails from people throughout the area who were moved by his story.

“Thank you for the article about Mark Wiebe,” wrote one woman from Earlville. “Our whole family, including our teenagers, read it and each of us was inspired. We especially appreciate that you made it plain that Mark gives God the glory for his life, abilities and thoughtfulness of others.”

“(Mark) has been a good friend of mine for a couple years now,” wrote a teenager named Todd from Ottawa. “It really seemed to make his day that he was in the paper. Thank you for bringing joy into his life. He always seems to find it, but he needs as much as he can get. So again, thank you for doing that for him.”

Actually, Todd, I’d like to thank Mark what he did for me.

Today, I can just imagine what he’s up to. My guess is that Mark already has Heaven wired, and is currently working on getting God’s home page up and running.

Pretty soon, all the angels will have their own screen names. Then they’ll be the ones getting instant messages from the latest guy to get his wings.

Those lucky devils.

Coming Wednesday, Part III of Mark’s story …