MORRIS – A Morris family is trying to turn tragedy into something positive as they works their way through their grief.
Family and friends of Dean Michael Fredericks described through tears the boy everybody loved – and even though he was a 20-year-old man when his canoe turned over on the Kankakee River and he drowned June 3, his family still thinks of him as the boy who loved dogs, fishing and his family.
“When I read the words ‘20-year-old man’ in the paper I was taken aback,” his mother, Elizabeth Fredericks, of Morris said. “He was my boy.”
His sister, Samantha, said he was more a boy, or perhaps, a young man.
He told his parents he felt he didn’t have friends, and that no one liked him, but they said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
About 800 people showed up for Dean’s wake, each one sharing their stories with his dad, Michael, and his mother.
“We heard hundreds of times over how he went out of his way to befriend someone,” Elizabeth said.
His friends describe him as a “little guy” – he was 5 feet 5 inches tall – who always stood up for the underdog.
“He was a loving and caring guy that always looked out for me. He always had my back,” his good friend, Marcus Nix, said in a phone interview from his Marine base in North Carolina.
Jake Contreras, one of his best friends since eighth grade, said Fredericks liked to appear macho in front of others, but he had a sensitive side.
It was no surprise to Contreras when the family found Dean’s “bucket list,” a list of things he wanted to do before he died, and on that, he wrote about wanting to hang out with a list of friends.
Contreras – the last person on the list – wasn’t just named though: For him, the list said, “the nicest kid in the world Jake.”
“He always said nice things to me,” Contreras said.
To deal with their grief, his parents, his sister, Samantha Fredericks, and her fiance, D.J. Alagna, have gotten memorial tattoos to honor him.
Some have just his name, while others have something symbolic that reminds them of the Dean they knew and loved. Samantha has his birth date in Roman numerals entwined in the infinity sign.
Fredericks was an avid fisherman, spending time fishing with family and friends from a young age. Alagna designed a tattoo that depicts a fishing lure with the words “Dean’s Gone Fishing” and had it placed on his chest.
“It was me and Dean’s thing, every since me and Sami got together, Dean and I would go on fishing trips,” Alagna said.
Samantha used the images of both her tattoo and Alagna’s to create a T-shirt to honor her brother, while raising money for something close to her brother’s heart, pit bulls. She worked with Grundy Area Vocational Center to have the shirts made.
“He always said if he ever won the lottery he’d build a house with a big fenced-in yard, and he would adopt hundreds of pit bulls and let them live there,” Samantha said.
Dean, who owned two pit bulls, rescued one of them, Buddy, less than a year ago and took him everywhere.
“He carried a book bag with water, food and treats for Buddy, like a parent does with a diaper bag,” Samantha said.
Samantha has set up a Facebook Page, www.facebook.com/DeansGoneFishing to sell the shirts she’s made to raise money for Bickell Foundation for rescuing pit bulls.