Glenn Caruso was raised in Greenwich, Conn., a town with a very high average income. Rachael Voge spent her early years in Springfield, Minn., a town with a high number of retired farmers who spend a long lunch playing cribbage.
Frank Caruso was a successful attorney in Greenwich. His wife died suddenly at Christmastime in 1982, when Glenn was 8, and Frank moved his law office into the basement of the family home to be available for his three children.
“I would call in sick from school when a big case was being discussed and listen to the drama,” Glenn Caruso said. “I always imagined myself becoming a lawyer and taking over the business from my dad.”
Caruso was a lineman for Greenwich High School’s potent football team, and then a starting center at Ithaca College in New York. He spent the fall of 1996 as a graduate assistant at Ithaca, with the idea of starting law school.
Frank came to him and said: “What are you doing, Glenn? I’m a lawyer because I love the law. You’re interested in the law because I’m a lawyer. What you love is teaching football. If I were you, I’d get in a car and head west, and find a job.”
Caruso made contact with North Dakota State, was offered a job by head coach Bob Babich, and headed for Fargo, N.D., in his Volkswagen.
Rachael Voge had moved with her family from Springfield to Bismarck, N.D., and then pursued a degree at North Dakota State. In the summer of 1998, Caruso and Rachael both were on a committee for the Special Olympics, and Glenn quickly decided that he wanted to date and eventually marry this young woman.
Rachael and Glenn were sitting in the den of their comfortable old home in St. Paul this week, with their three children also on the worn, L-shaped couch, and she picked up the story:
“I told him I had a boyfriend and what was I going to say to him? Glenn said, ‘I think you should tell him that you really enjoyed dating him, and he’s a good guy, but that you’ve met someone else, and he says that he’s going to marry you.’ ”
Which was what happened on Memorial Day weekend in Fargo in 2001: Glenn and Rachael Caruso were wed, and now are the parents of Anna (13), Cade (12) and Truman (10), as well as guardians for the 100-plus members of the University of St. Thomas football team that Glenn has turned into a Division III powerhouse.
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The Tommies were having a Wednesday practice in advance of a second-round NCAA playoff game vs. Berry College on Thanksgiving weekend. Matt Christensen, a senior tight end who was named as an All-America, noticed that Rachael Caruso was on the sideline for a long portion of practice.
“It wasn’t unusual to see Rachael at practice, dropping off a couple of kids and staying for a while, but this was longer,” Christensen said. “Then, when we got to the locker room, we were told there would be a short post-practice talk. We don’t have more than a handful of those during the season.”
The speaker was Rachael Caruso, and the 41-year-old “Mom” of the Tommies delivered this shocking news: She had been diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer and was about to start radiation and chemotherapy.
“It was straightforward from her,” Christensen said. “She told us not to spend time on sympathy for her, that this was being dealt with, and to take care of ourselves and our team.
“I was proud that Rachael wanted to come in and tell 140 football players about her situation, before we started hearing it from other people.”
Rachael also passed along what the Carusos use as a family creed: “It’s life and it’s all good … not always easy, not always fun, but it’s all good.”
That was the gospel of life according to Frank Caruso, “the best man I ever met,” Glenn said. Frank had kids 14, 13 and 8 when his wife died, and remarried with Mary, the mother of daughters aged 4, 6, 8 and 10 at the time.
Suddenly the Greenwich home was invaded by four daughters, ages 4 to 10.
“Not always easy, but it was all good,” said Glenn, smiling. “Those are my sisters, and Mary Caruso is a great lady and a big fan of the Tommies.”
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Rachael Caruso had noticed some blood when going to the bathroom for almost a year. She thought it was hemorrhoids, as women can deal with long term after becoming mothers.
“I’m only 41; you don’t think about colonoscopies at that age,” she said. “I finally went at the urging of a friend. They found a mass, and it was diagnosed as cancer on Nov. 16.
“It’s not the greatest thing to talk about, but if I can help one person who is going to read this and get the message, it’s worth it: If you notice blood in your stool, don’t wait. Get checked.”
Rachael is being treated at Abbott Northwestern. She wears a chemo pouch and is receiving radiation Monday through Friday. The goal is to shrink the tumor before surgery late in January, and then there will be a couple of months of a different concoction of chemotherapy.
“That’s when I could lose my hair,” she said.
Which definitely would challenge the family creed that “it’s life and it’s all good,” because Rachael has great blonde hair … one factor that immediately drew Glenn Caruso’s attention to her at that Special Olympics meeting two decades ago.
For sure, it’s not easy fitting in time for cancer treatment with active kids, all attending Highland Catholic Grade School and on traveling basketball teams. Rachael played high school basketball and has been a youth coach, currently with Cade’s team.
“When you’re married to a football coach, there are times during the season when you’re a single mom, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Rachael said. “The St. Thomas community is so great. And we’ve seen it again with my cancer situation.
“One of my friends put out a list for people to sign up to deliver meals for us at dinner time. I think we’re signed up until June.”
This show of friendship is much appreciated, although Truman still waits for those moments when his mom finds time to make “Santa Fe Hot Dish” — Rachael’s version of a taco hot dish.
“It’s so good,” the youngest son said.
With the Carusos of St. Paul, life’s always good, just not always easy.