The Magic of the MollyB Basket


From Top Left, Peyton Shaw, 2017 winner, Missy Reep (Jagger’s Mother) 2018. Bottom Left Allison Hunger 2019, Santa 2021 and Azalea Huntley 2022
Starting at Top Left, Peyton Shaw, 2017 winner, Missy Reep (Jagger’s Mother) 2018. Bottom Left Allison Hunger 2019, Santa 2021 and Azalea Huntley 2022! This basket keeps Molly Banzhoff, Rachel Hunger and Diane Peterson present and meaningful both for those who knew them and those who didn’t.

The biggest fear I have had since Molly died is that she will disappear. The sad reality is that people who die DO disappear. It is inevitable. We in the physical world need the constant physical reminders of something for it to exist. I am told by people that “Molly will never be forgotten” and while I know they mean well, she IS forgotten, a little bit more each day.

In the weeks following her death the emotion I felt most was panic. I could not wrap my head around the fact that she was dead so she simply felt missing. Lost in a mall missing. Kidnapped missing. In my sleepless nights I would be so overcome with this panic that I would drive to the cemetery and lay down on her grave. It was as close as I could get to her.

As time has passed the panic has lessened.

While time does not in any way heal how I feel about Molly’s death, it does provide distance and perspective. I can look at things differently and process them more effectively. I have always taught my students and my athletes that knowledge is power. That knowing something may require effort but the end result is a measure of power. While ignorance may be bliss, it leaves room for disaster.

 Molly dying like she did, taught me this.

In the last seven holiday seasons Kenny, Gracie and I have gone through several changes in how we navigate this time of year. From all but ignoring it, to small acknowledgements, to reinventing it, each year has brought growth. The holiday show illustrates this beautifully.

In 2016 all we did was stop in to watch Gracie do Mother Ginger. Gracie was still a dance student there and all fall the hours of Christmas music just about wrecked her. We spent two weeks in Hawaii returning just in time for the show. It was impossibly horrific.

We decided to create a Molly Basket in 2017. It was a way to keep Molly alive in the most desperate way. Shopping for the basket was fun but gut wrenchingly so. We just wanted her back. Sitting alone at a table in the lobby of the City Auditorium I often felt that I made people nervous. Miss Cindy was gracious, however and supported the endeavor. The winners those first two years were close friends of Molly’s from dance and theater. Peyton Shaw and Jagger Reep’s mother Missy. 

In 2019 the winner was Allison Hunger.  This is significant because 7 months prior Ali’s big sister Rachel, a fellow CDA dancer had died at age 21. Allison’s name being drawn from that big bucket of tickets drove home the fact that Molly was truly the selector of the basket recipient. Peyton and Jagger were not coincidences at all.

After a Covid induced year off the 2021 Holiday Show brought a unique winner. Santa Claus himself was the recipient. In true Santa fashion, the man behind the beard, Mr. Steff, sat down with the CDA staff after the show and took apart the basket. He laid everything out and Molly’s teachers, office staff, and helpers had the opportunity to take those things they loved. Her lunch box went to Paige, who never had a Vera Bradley one growing up. Ms. Cindy took the scarf, Miss Hilary some shirts for her daughter.

Molly was everywhere that day.

With each passing year the basket becomes a little easier to fill. It becomes more of a wistful walk down memory lane rather than a knife twisting one. We no longer need a list to follow. I am becoming a skilled basket wrapper. This was also the year that there was a noticeable increase in the number of people who did not know who Molly was. Most of them did not know Rachel either. While this is hard to take, it gave me the chance to talk about Molly over and over.

 That part was wonderful.

We combined Rachel with Molly in terms of who the 2022 basket was honoring. Together we donated the money raised to a scholarship honoring Diane Peterson. A 30 year back stage mom and dancer herself, Mrs. Peterson died quite suddenly. This year’s winner was, as usual, obviously hand picked by Molly, and now Rachel. Azalea Huntley was the “little sister” of Allison and Gracie during her first year on the competition team. She is hard working and earnest. She selected those things from the basket that she loved and has picked those with whom she will share.

I know I should feel happy for whomever may win the basket, but it is always such a relief when the winner has such obvious connections to Molly and now Rachel. When the person winning it needs exactly what the contents will deliver, happiness and the chance to share it.

So, Peyton, Missy (and Jagger), Allison, Santa and Azalea you are all a part of a pretty unique circle. The love through which you are all connected to Molly, Rachel and one another is a beautiful thing. As heartbreaking as death can be there is room for joy in the process of living without those we have lost.

You all prove it.

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