One was nearly 70, smiling from pictures with his grandchildren and children, donning his trademark, black cowboy hat that greeted so many of the people he met along the way.
The other was not even a teenager. Eyes full of youth and wonder. Wondering what he could squeeze out of life next while he fought the battle raging inside him.
Larry Bermel and Tyler Purohit could not have been more different, yet, at the same time they were so similar.
Each had a positive, lasting impact on nearly everyone they came across during their times in St. Michael-Albertville. Each is remembered by all with a smile, a nod, and perhaps a tear.
And each man, young and old, has a legacy that will live on here for a generation or more.
And that’s why they’re our 2013 Persons of the Year.
There are pictures of the boy known by nearly everyone as “T-Sizzle” in the STMA Middle School East offices. He’s with his friend and fellow cancer warrior, Aly, just smiling, hanging outside of principal Jennie Kelly’s office.
“Anyone who knew him, or even just had a conversation with him, remembers how positive he was,” said Kelly, who was not only a principal but family counselor, friend and shoulder to cry on for the past two years until Tyler died in October.
Chances are the community wouldn’t have heard of T-Sizzle unless he’d been ill. He was smart, quick-witted and a “gamer,” like so many pre-teens. He was one of the middle school’s best students. He was well-liked.
His illness came on quickly, then, like so many young cancer patients, it took a “break,” and he had a period of clean MRI scans. But when the cancer came back, it was life-changing of Tyler and those around him.
But his attitude never wavered, said his mother and father, Jewels and Manoj.
"He's always been positive. Always thinking of others," said his mother, Julia (Jewels), who kept the community abreast of Tyler's fight with cancer via a Caringbridge site over the past two years.
As the illness got worse, the Purohit family established two things that will make Tyler live on: dubbed "Tyler's Helping Hand Fund."
It will help the dozens of families around our area each year who have to deal with this same battle with brain cancer. It will provide resources for grief comfort, finances, experiences (Tyler had some of the best) and care. And it will always bear Tyler’s name.
The other is rooted in a art of qigong. Tyler used it to manage his pain and increase his energy during his fight. He shared it with his friends and family, and there is discussion of including the practice in curriculum, Kelly said.
But what will cement his legacy is the way he brought a building together.
"These are our kids," Kelly said. "Each teacher, and each parent has that same sort of mentality: you have to help. If something like this happens in our school, the spirit our people show to rally around that student is just amazing. It really is.”
There was no bigger fan of St. Michael-Albertville sports. After all, he drove most teams to away games over the past several years, and even opposing fans started to recognize “The Cowboy.”
The thing is, if Cowboy Larry drove your child’s bus, you became his fan.
The outpouring from parents and students alike after Bermel’s death two months ago was proof. Perhaps Bobby Budde, a recent grad and baseball standout, said it best, saying “I guess when we leave this world and go to heaven,” tweeted Bobby Budde, a 2011 graduate, “we know who will be driving the bus.”
Bermel transported kids of almost all ages for Don’s Bus Service. He would hit his morning and afternoon routes on time, greet parents with a smile and a nod, and drop off his teams with a “Show no mercy” or “Let ‘em have it.”
That was his full day.
“Larry was more than a bus driver, he was a true Knight,” said Kent Hamre, girls’ basketball coach. “The kids loved getting on the bus and seeing Larry; he would always have something positive for them to get them fired up for the game. Win or lose after the game he always let the kids know how much he enjoyed the game. He will be missed by many not only here in STMA, but throughout the state. Everyone knew him.”
To remember Larry, the girls created team shirts with Larry’s trademark had on the front, and a saying, “Show no mercy, ladies.” The basketball team has dedicated its season to their former driver.
“Although things have been very difficult,” wrote Larry’s granddaughter, Briannan, “what has made such a positive impact on all of us is the love and support that we received from the many people who knew my grandpa. Whether he was your bus driver and gave you candy, drove your team around for sports, was your neighbor, a close friend or relative, a coworker, or just someone who made you smile, I hope he made an impact on your life because I know you made an impact on his."