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A rockin' goodbye: Family, friends support Munson's school of rock

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Mark Munson and grandson Wyatt Munson play along with Rockin' Hill Sunday at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. The event was both a "celebration of life" party for Munson, who suffers from terminal cancer, and a fundraiser for the Mark Munson Memorial School of Rock. The rock 'n' roll summer camp would serve Brainerd area teens. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) (Video and Gallery)2 / 2

BAXTER—By the time Mark Munson's party was underway in Baxter Sunday afternoon, nearly $20,000 worth of donations was already in the bank for his rock music summer camp dream.

Hundreds of people packed a large room at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes to say their goodbyes to Munson, who faces a terminal cancer diagnosis, but also to raise funds for the camp that will memorialize him.

In conjunction with The Crossing Arts Alliance, an arts nonprofit based in the Franklin Arts Center, Munson's dream is to establish a rock 'n' roll camp for Brainerd area teens. A lifelong musician, Munson took the stage Sunday with his band Rockin' Hill to celebrate the release of the band's CD, the proceeds from which will support the Mark Munson Memorial School of Rock.

Joining him at the mic was his 16-year-old grandson Wyatt Munson, whose transformation from a shy kid to a multi-instrument musician after attending a rock 'n' roll camp served as the inspiration to bring one to the Brainerd lakes area. The camps typically run for two weeks and participants in sixth through 12th grades are placed into individual rock bands and learn songs together. The camp culminates in a concert, when the new bands show off what they've learned.

After the pair shared three songs together, Mark's son—Dirk Munson, Wyatt's father—presented his dad with a gold record honoring the school of rock. As tears began to fall onto his cheeks, Dirk Munson spoke of how the shared love for music made the family closer.

"Hopefully we can get all the other kids in the town, in the neighborhood, involved in this because this is a great camp for the kids," he said.

Mark Munson thought of pursuing a local version of the camp after Wyatt's attendance at one in Little Falls, but his illness threatened to stymie that effort, he said.

"With this disease, I figured I'd get it started and then it will die," Munson told the Dispatch earlier this month in an interview.

The Stage 4 pancreatic cancer Munson is currently facing is his second bout with the disease. First diagnosed three years ago, Munson received surgery and treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the cancer went into remission. In December 2015, however, an unrelated procedure revealed the cancer returned with a vengeance. Doctors told Munson then his life expectancy was two months to a year.

The wish was revived by the board of directors of The Crossing Arts Alliance, who wished to honor the man who served on the board himself for more than a decade. The "celebration of life" party Sunday, originally planned as a way for Munson to see as many friends and relatives as he could before his death, evolved into a fundraiser for the effort.

Everyone at the party wore name tags that included an explanation of how they were connected to Munson—a visual representation of the many lives intersecting with Munson's own. Through establishing a camp, Munson said he hopes his love of music will continue to impact the lives of future generations.

"That's what music can do," he said earlier this month. "That's why I'm so supportive of a program like this, because you get the kids started in something with music and they learn about it, they'll continue it their whole lives."

Visit to read the first Brainerd Dispatch story on Munson.

How to help the Mark Munson Memorial School of Rock

• The Crossing Arts Alliance online shop at offers school of rock T-shirts and Rockin' Hill CDs for purchase.

• Make a tax-deductible donation to The Crossing Arts Alliance. Call 218-833-0416 for more information.

• Donate used musical instruments or sound equipment for use at the camp. These donations are also tax-deductible. Call Mark Munson at 218-831-1170 to make this type of donation.

• Become an instructor or the director of the program. Call Munson if interested in this opportunity as well.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or Follow on Twitter at

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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