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Play it for Mandy

A loving father uses the spirit of bluegrass music to honor his late daughter — a former patient of St. Jude.


Seventeen years ago, Darrel decided to end a country and bluegrass music festival he produced near Columbus, Ohio, after his daughter, Mandy, was diagnosed with cancer. Darrel believed he needed to focus all of his attention on her.

But Mandy convinced him he could focus on both, and the festival should continue.

“This is what we do,” she told him. “This is part of our life.”

At the time, Mandy was a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, undergoing treatment for a brain tumor called anaplastic astrocytoma. Darrel agreed to host the July festival one more time with one change — it would benefit St. Jude.

Later that year, in November, Mandy, who was 21, lost her fight with cancer. And the musical artists who performed in the festival approached Darrel about continuing the event.

Unsure, Darrel consulted with his wife, Phyllis, as well as friends and family. He decided to “do it the best that we could do for as long as we could do it.”


Since then, the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer Music Festival has raised more than $809,000 for St. Jude and the YMCA, and will once again take place July 20–23.

“It’s just our way to pay back what St. Jude did for us,” Darrel said.

Darrel compares the four-day festival to a large family reunion, drawing thousands of people from all over the world each day to see nearly 40 different musical acts. Some of the festival goers even camp out for an entire week in the Hoover YMCA Park, where the event is held.

Each February, Darrel and Phyllis return to St. Jude to present a check from the festival, bringing with them various musicians. They often visit with the nurses and doctors who treated Mandy.

“We saw miracles at St. Jude,” Darrel said. “So we decided this is what we need to do. St. Jude is part of our family.”

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