McKoy Rodning and Steph Kruggel were married on Aug. 13 of last year. The parents of the groom, Tiffany and Brian, reached back to their days as high school sweethearts and danced up a storm at the reception.
Two days later, Tiffany had a doctor’s visit in which she learned a diagnosis of colon cancer. It turned out to be the worst kind, Stage 4 and terminal.
Tiffany Wisch had graduated as a “proud Winthrop Warrior” in 1986. She married Brian Rodning, a farm boy from outside of Gaylord, in August 1989.
A couple of years later, they moved back home from Mankato, and Tiffany became a nonstop presence in Gaylord.
“Tiff was involved in everything in town, and she did a lot for our town baseball team,” said Mike Walsh, the manager of the Gaylord Islanders. “She has been on our baseball board since 2009, the year we hosted the state tournament. Her energy was amazing.”
Brian Rodning was an athlete at Minnesota State Mankato, and he also was a longtime standout pitcher for the Islanders.
“In 1996, we were in the finals of the Class C tournament, and we had to beat Plato twice on Labor Day to win it,” Walsh said. “Brian pitched nine innings to win the first game. We didn’t really have a pitcher for the second game. And he said, ‘I’ll pitch.’
“Plato won the second game, but Brian taking the ball again … it tells you something about the Rodnings as competitors.”
The word of Tiffany’s grave prognosis had spread through Gaylord in mid-August. The Islanders had a bye in the first weekend of the Class C state tournament, and they were scheduled to play Winsted on Aug. 27, a Saturday, in Dassel.
The Islanders came out with distinctive uniform patches honoring Tiffany. The large and boisterous delegation of Gaylord fans also wore the patches.
McKoy Rodning was the catcher, and his younger brother Brody, a Minnesota State Mankato lefthander fresh from the Northwoods collegiate league, was the pitcher.
“Brody pitched great, but we couldn’t hit against Winsted,” Walsh said. “Single elimination. That was it.”
Tiffany waged her battle against impossible odds.
“She ran, she worked out, the last person you would expect to get sick,” Walsh said. “Even the last few months, if you didn’t know what Tif was dealing with, you wouldn’t have guessed.”
The Rodnings were in Florida earlier this month to watch Brody and the Mavericks on their spring trip. This was followed by a return to the University of Minnesota Hospitals, where her treatment had taken place.
The family was there with her March 16. The next day was Tiffany’s 49th birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, and also the day she returned to Gaylord to die at home.
“The two boys and I were in the hospital room,” Brian said. “We’re big Gophers fans, of course, and the basketball team was playing in the NCAA tournament. Tiffany looked at us and said, ‘You three guys get out of here; go over to Sally’s, have a beer, and watch the game.’
“And that’s what we did.”
The home hospice lasted for six days. Tiffany died Thursday just before midnight. Brian, her two sons and daughter-in-law Steph were with her. One of her last instructions was to Brody:
“Pitch your game Friday.”
MSU Mankato was scheduled for a Friday doubleheader with Minnesota Duluth at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brody is the junior ace for the Mavericks, a lefthander with a fastball that rests at 92-93 miles per hour, and occasionally reaches 95.
The scouts followed him in the Northwoods League, and they are watching now.
Friday’s start in the seven-inning opener vs. UMD wasn’t for scouts. It was for Mom. And as the game progressed, Brody had a message for teammates:
“Just get me one.”
The run came in the bottom of the sixth, Luke Waldek doubling home Dylan Dresel. Brody completed the 1-0 shutout in the top of the seventh. He gave up three hits and two walks, while striking out seven Bulldogs.
“There was a nice group of Mankato fans there, and a lot of people from Gaylord,” Brian said. “When the game was over, everyone got up and started to clap. And they clapped for what must have been 15 minutes.”
By then, Brian and other family members had been accompanied by stadium security to the field, to share emotions with Brody for a shutout that was also a tribute.
The Rodnings were members of Scandian Grove Lutheran, a tiny country church in Norseland. They also have attended the larger Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato, and that’s where Tiffany’s funeral will be Tuesday.
“It will be an amazing turnout,” Walsh said. “We knew what was coming with Tiff, but the town’s still in shock.”
Yes, the town ... Gaylord (pop. 2,300), a place with a pulse that figures to be missing a couple of beats without Tiffany Rodning.