The Grass Is Green… Posted on April 9th, 2020 by

Dave Aasen

He would be 50 now.  He would be director of TLC.  He would have you laughing at his goofy jokes.  And crying at how tender hearted he could be to the people who were least popular.  He made them feel like they were whole. Because they were whole to him.  And, in his eyes, everyone should know it.  And celebrate it.

Everyone loved him.  The popular girls and boys surrounded him at camp, because he was our most popular instructor.  But he would sit with the girl, or boy, who sat by themselves at lunch, who didn’t dare to presume that others would want to be with them.  That’s where Dave would go. And they would feel worthy – in their own eyes – the place that is most important, by the time the meal was over.

On his gravestone, center, a tennis player serves with the letters TLC below it.  He epitomized what we try to do.  Bring excellence, bring joy, bring encouragement, bring community, but most of all, bring kindness.

It has been 25 years since he passed away.  His life shaped mine, and thousands of others.  You would even hear campers say, I want to be like Dave.

Life goes away for all of us.

But I am reminded of the connected mystery of what lives on.

It has been 25 years since his car slid into the path of a semi that Thanksgiving Day and extinguished his bright light in the world.

Or so we might think.

But two weeks ago, when COVID-19 forced us all off the courts to shelter in place and to help others for the greater good of society – a move Dave would make in a heartbeat – I received the most timely email.  It was from the dad of a ten-year old girl. Named Dave.

Ok, her name is Maya.  She is a camper.  So are her dad and brother.  But she’s a lot like Dave.

This was what was attached on that email:

“The Grass Is Green”

“It Is A Great Day To Be Alive”

“The Sky Is Blue”

This was Dave’s signature motto, no matter if the world was upside down or right side up.  Not a day went by where I didn’t hear him say it.

Camper Maya

He wasn’t a Pollyanna.  He saw the grief in the world and knew it was real.  And he would see the grief in the world right now and know it is real.  And still, somehow, say,

The grass is green,
the sky is blue,
it’s a great day to be alive.

He is not here to say it.  Instead, Maya is here for him.  And for us.  Maya was born fifteen years after Dave’s death.  And, still, I see Dave in that smile, in the hopefulness, in the looking to make the world a better place when it isn’t feeling like such a good place.
So, there you have it.  Thanks, Maya.  Thanks, Dave.  And thanks, all of you who are doing your best to make the world a better place even now.  Especially now.




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  1. Jonathon Davis says:

    Great Story Neal, brought back a lot of memories. David, and Eric, were just special people, and you could see it from a mile away. Dave and I played Football and Basketball together from the time the Aasen’s moved to town. Dave was all the special things that you and everyone else has commented on!!! But don’t forget either, Aussie was a tremendous competitor in everything he did, sports, school, whatever it was in life, he attacked it with vigor. He and I played many many games of 1 on 1, and for years, because he was a tall, gangly, seemingly all elbows and arms, and I was short, I usually came out on the wrong end of the score, to my tremendous frustration. That frustration turned, when we finally got to high school and were teammates, and our opponents in the SCC ended up on the other side of David’s competitiveness! I still have the picture from graduation day with 6-7 of us, hanging in my home office, which has David’s saying inscribed on it, and David is, as he usually was laughing with an infectious smile on his face

    Paul and Anita, though it’s little consolation, well done!!! Eric and Dave, though only here a short time, had a tremendous affect on a lot of people!!!

    Jon Davis SPHS ’88

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      so lovely to hear. Yes, Dave was ultra-competitive, lol. And kind hearted or self aware when his competitive instincts took him too far in a direction he didn’t want to go, at which point he would make amends. The sign of a true champion…

  2. Trevor L Brovold says:

    Neal – just wanted to say … Bravo! And – THANK YOU!

    What a great tribute to a great man! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of David. David and I were best friends in elementary school, junior high and high school. We found the sport of tennis together in 6th grade when we took tennis lessons via a local Community Education program in our home town of Saint Peter. Our instructor was Bruce Gullikson, who was attending Gustavus at the time, was so instrumental in developing our love of the game. Bruce – or Gully as we called him – spent countless hours with us on and off the court that summer and for the next couple of years. His love of the game was infectious and we fell in love with the game and even convinced him to be our tennis coach in 7th and 8th Grade… which provided us access to great instruction… along with of course our time going to multiple Tennis and Life camps through the years… 🙂

    We spent those years in junior high and high school playing more tennis than I can remember… David and I also participated in football and basketball together and we spent more time on the football field and hard court together too … developing a bond that would be unshakable…

    Friends Forever – we would say… 🙂

    So many incredible memories -… As his friend – it was so wonderful to see David develop as an incredible tennis instructor, teacher, mentor to so many… to watch him develop into an incredible young man… after we graduated high school… Even if he ended up being the high school boys and girls tennis coach in Blue Earth, MN – who was our rival in tennis in high school… and was the team that ultimately defeated us in the State High School State Class A Tennis Finals… our senior year… ruining our perfect season that year… 🙂 Still – so wonderful to see my Forever Friend… following his passions… and becoming an inspiration to so many…

    One of the most devastating days of my Life… was hearing the news that David and his brother Eric… who was an incredible young man in his own right… had passed away… as a result of a car accident… on November 24, 1994… I remember David’s mother calling my mother in the evening to share the news…. and collapsing to the ground when I heard the news…

    Without question… a part of me died that day as well as David’s passing left a hole… that can never be completely filled. It still amazes me that so much time has passed. It is still difficult for me to understand… the disparities that exist in Life in so many ways.. Yet – no matter what… I will forever be thankful for the time I spent with David… learning basketball.. football… tennis… and learning about Life together… Again – David was a Friend Forever… and you simply don’t find many friends like that… if ever…

    Again – Thanks again for your tribute…

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      thanks, Trevor, you two were two peas in a pod when you came to TLC as campers all those years ago. David was lucky to have a friend like you…

    • Anne Noonan says:

      Trevor, I’m so sorry for your loss. What a testament to your friendship, that you think about him every day. ~ Anne

  3. Sue Frederickson says:

    As Dave’s assistant girls’ tennis coach I remember so many Dave sayings. November ‘19 Faribault County Register reporter Kevin Mertens wrote a wonderful article about Dave, I encourage you to read it (Faribault County Register and search for ‘Dave Aasen’.)

    Quoting from this article –
    “Even when the wind would be a factor in a tennis match, Dave would stress during the week’s practices, ‘the wind is our friend.'” Frederickson remembers. “He would then teach strategies to cope with the strong winds. It is amazing how preparing for a situation and having a controlled positive outlook affects your game, and your life.”

    Aasen’s legacy also continues to live on in the kids currently playing tennis.

    “I smile when I think of Dave because I am now watching the children of his former athletes play with tenacity, good sportsmanship and having a love of life,” Frederickson says. “

    Thank you for your blog, Neil. Here at Easter time it is uplifting to see Maya’s sidewalk drawings of Dave’s daily belief relayed to us…

    “The grass is green, (Dave’s hand would guide our gaze to the ground)
    the sky is blue, (Dave’s hand would guide our gaze to the sky)
    it’s a great day to be alive.” (Dave’s hand would reach towards all of us in one big circular motion)

  4. Nicole Heisler Pelowski says:

    David and Eric were both amazing men taken away from us way too soon. I attended HS with David and knew his big brother Eric too. David was one of the first boys to welcome me to St.Peter as I moved there as a freshman. He made me feel as if I belonged there, and continued to do so for our entire friendship. For all of HS he made all of his friends feel loved, helped our sports teams attain greatness, and got the band to rock out to his signature sound. His motto hangs on the wall of my classroom, it is really a TLC shirt, but it is framed and beautiful. I think of his smile lighting up a room, his laugh that was so distinct and him on his moped cruising around town. I love that Maya, and everyone who knows the Aasen “boys” are keeping their memories alive. They were truly special.
    Nicole Heisler
    SPHS 1988

  5. Joel Fienen says:

    Dave was my tennis coach for NJTL and he showed me and was a very positive even though I was not feeling it. He made you feel like you were a grand slam champion and also he took the time out to give you a little extra coaching.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Well said, Joel. He made me feel like a grand slam champion, too, even when he was beating me, lol…

      • Joel Fienen says:

        He always made you smile and I never got the chance to him. I beat my grandfather in tennis and it took me years to do it. He would be very proud because besides Dave. My grandfather taught me from a young age. It was Dave though that taught me to never give up because you never know when it will be your last.

  6. Connie Bogard PT, PhD says:

    This brought happy and sad tears to my eyes. I knew David’s brother Eric who died that Thanksgiving day too. I did not know David but know that Eric was a gem, caring and empathetic and so very bright. They were unique but I am sure they came with the same solid generous service oriented demeanor. The Mayo Clinic PT program mourned both the passing of Eric and David, and we have a memorial in Eric’s name given to a student every year since he died. I had a 6 month old infant son when David and Eric died. I often pray that they would watch out for my three sons in their most heavenly pursuits. That infant son, my oldest, is now 26 and he survived a near fatal crash involving a semi when he was a senior in college, just weeks away from graduation. How he survived the crash with only a concussion is a blessing and a miracle, and in my heart navigated with the help from Eric and David. That is my belief. Yes, David and Eric profoundly continue to impact the world, and they will be remembered as long as there is a Mayo Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy. Thanks for sharing. Many blessings!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Connie, for sharing this. It is beautiful what they both brought to the world. Remarkable people with remarkable parents.

  7. Clark K. Cary says:

    I had the privilege of being Dave’s pastor at Trinity in Blue Earth when he came to coach our kids. He was a bright spot in worship. Should have made him the Official Greeter on Sunday’s because that’s what he was whether he knew people or not. He inspired not only the players on the team but all the youth and their parents and town folks. What an amazing legacy! To be invited to participate at his funeral in St. Peter was humbling but engraved a deep memory. We all were blessed by Dave’s presence and we are grateful.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I am laughing at the thought of Dave being the Official Greeter. And in retirement he would have been the Walmart Greeter!

  8. Rob says:

    What a great story Neal. Your blogs always seem to capture the moment so beautifully. Having had Dave as a camp counselor when I was a junior camper at TLC in the early/mid 1990’s, his quote always stayed with me. I shared his quote with my family through the years and my kids all had it memorized before they started to attend camp at TLC the last few years. Maya was shocked and honored she was included in this blog, and she had tears in her eyes when she read it. Thanks for all that you and the TLC staff do to make such a big impact on the lives of so many.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Rob, That is so amazing that the connection to this goes so far back. It makes it even more special. Thank you, and thank Maya again. Tell her we are proud to know her…

  9. jim turner says:

    Thanks Neal, you brightened my day

  10. John Lonneman says:

    My wife Tina and myself along with others in the Lonneman family attended TLC on July 15-17, 1994. I only met Dave Aasen this one time as four months later he was gone. One time was all it took to know how great of guy he was.. I have kept his eval card in my racket sleeve for the past 25 years as a reminder to enjoy life.. your email was forwarded from my Mother, Pat. Sure appreciate the message, Neal. Have a wonderful Easter and be well. John

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, John, what an amazing story. And a tribute to Dave. I have lived life better because he was on this earth…

  11. Dave jussila says:

    Thanks for sharing Neal! I think of Dave often and remember his impact on campers and staff. He was a great friend, roommate and teaching colleague. I miss him greatly.

    His impact endures to this day. What a great legacy.

    I’ll never forget his skit, “let me see you boogaloo” that he did with campers. They all loved him, and saw the genuineness of his heart.

    Dave Jussila ‘91

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Ain’t that the truth about Dave. You two were Dave squared :). So good to hear from you… Your impact on TLC was huge.

  12. Brad Olson says:

    Dave was an amazing light in this world and is truly missed! I am so glad his legacy continues to live on through TLC along with his message of positivity, love, inclusion and acceptance.

  13. Anne Noonan says:

    What an unexpected thing, that I would get to think about Dave Aasen today—because of this email. I’m so glad you sent this to bring it into my thoughts today. I went to high school with Dave (as you would know), and even though I was never at TLC with him, I definitely know the kindness and good-natured, caring spirit you’re talking about. And guess what: I can hear his voice, right now, in my head—easily! And laugh too. So, do I feel like I have a little bit of Dave with me today? I absolutely do. And can I try to be a little bit like Dave today, and going forward? Yes, I can. It’d be an honor. So, thank you Dave, for being who you were and are, and thank you Neal, for this reminder and remembrance of Dave. It’s made today a better day!
    ~ Anne (Sammelson) Noonan, SPHS ’87; Gustie ’91

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      What a beautiful memory, Anne!

    • Kevin Aasen says:

      Unexpected is an understatement. Thank you Maya and family for sending Neal/TLC her sidewalk art. Thank you Neal for sharing her awesomeness and your kind words in remembering David. Finally, thank you Anne for taking time to leave a comment about David from his time in high school. I will admit, as I was reading your reply, a couple of sentences in I was thinking to myself “who is Anne Noonan?”, “I don’t recall a Noonan” going to SPHS?….and as I read/scrolled further I instantly knew once I saw your maiden name. 🙂 Everything about this post, your reply and other earlier replies made me smile and tear up at the same time in seeing how both David and Erik still connect old and new lives together 25 years later. Please say hi to your sister and family for me.
      Kevin, SPHS ’84; Gustie ’88

      • Jennifer Bjorling says:

        ❤️ to your and your family. I visit your brothers when visiting and bringing my mom flowers.
        Jenny Bjorling SPHS ‘84

      • Anne (Sammelson) Noonan, SPHS '87; Gustie '91 says:

        Hi, Kevin – so nice to hear from you! I just am seeing this now, and getting to read many other reactions to this piece including from fellow SPHS’ers. How neat. Your bothers Dave & Erik are pulling people together, and inspiring them, still. How cool is that…I think they’d like that! As Jon said, credit to your parents too for instilling all of you with such kindness and core decency. These traits run in the family! I always remember you three brothers especially when we’d see you at church, and in my mind you are lined up, entering the sanctuary. (I can’t quite remember where you guys sat, but we always sat in the same spot—don’t ask me why.) This chance to think about, and read about, Dave again—and to hear from other people thinking about him too—reminds me that they’re with us still, just in a different way. And we’ll reunite! So I better make good on my efforts to be a little Dave-like, every day, or he’s gonna bust me for it (good naturedly, of course). 😊
        I’ll greet my family, for sure! Thank you! Thanks again Neal & great to hear from everyone else, too! ~ Anne

  14. Kathie says:

    This makes my heart happy. I still say that every morning to my kids. I never met Dave but wow did he make an impact. ❤️

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      So wonderful you say that to you kids!

    • Jennifer Holmseth McCleary says:

      David was my high school tennis coach at Blue Earth Area High School. I graduated in 1994. He made a huge impact on my life. I think of him frequently, on and off the tennis court. On the court, I always think, “happy feet”, even though my feet are now 44 years old! 😁 Off the court, Maya’s chalk drawings of his words remind me of our purpose. Such an amazing man. So many great memories! ❤️

  15. Diane Marsh says:

    How absolutely beautiful