On September 24th, 2000 society and the disabled community lost one of it’s shining stars. Tony Lebahn. More importantly a wife lost her husband and a family lost their father. He passed away of an apparent aneurism.
It was my good fortune to have known Tony for over 20 years. I first met Tony at Courage Center in the late 70’s. My first reaction was, “How sad, here is a young gentleman with no arms, no legs. What a horrible life!” That was the one and only time I ever felt “sorry” for Tony. Tony instantly made me feel at ease with him. His positive attitude and wonderful sense of humor were infectious. Tony loved life and those around him.
Tony had an idea of what he wanted to do with his life: “I want to drive, go to school, get a job, and a wife and family.” Twenty years later he was a college graduate, had a full time job at Courage Center, drove to work each day, had a beautiful wife Terry and three children, Casey, Jason and Kevin. These are the facts, but to know the man was to know his passion for life, his involvement in family and the community, his love of sports, his competitiveness, his sense of humor and, “oh yes,” his laugh. In a 1982 Star Tribune article shortly after Tony and Terry were married, a reporter asked, “Have you ever not wanted to live?” Tony’s response was, “I’ve always wanted to live. God has a purpose for me. I don’t know what it is, but God has a purpose… I still owe him one.”
Eighteen years later we can see what God’s purpose was: to be a coach to hundreds of kids and adults, to be a loving husband and father, to show us it’s not what we don’t have that counts, but how we use what we have. As Charles Swindoll stated, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…We are in charge of our attitudes.”
One of Tony’s best friends, Jim Krause, stated at the wake that the only time he ever heard Tony lament about not having arms was when he got married and was not able to hug his wife Terry.
Personally, I have worked with folks with disabilities for over 20 years. As I work with them in obtaining employment, I have told “Tony” stories on how one man has success despite his physical disabilities. He used positive attitude and focused on how one’s strengths are the key to quality of life. Tony will truly be missed, and he will live in our hearts and spirits.
I feel the most sad for Tony’s wife and children that Tony will not be there to watch them grow and flourish. But I know Tony, he will be up in heaven coaching them along!
c/o Courage Center
3915 Golden Valley Road
Golden Valley MN 55422