Nick Dresch fulfilled a promise to his daughter Wednesday.
He just couldn’t be there to see it delivered.
That afternoon, Mackenzie Dresch got her Disney experience. The 7-year-old compared shoes with Anna from her favorite movie, “Frozen.” She wore an Anna costume herself, floating past the heart-shaped balloons in her living room. When fellow princess Elsa arrived, she ran down the family’s driveway to meet her.
For the little girl, the afternoon was almost magical. Almost.
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Recently, the folks at Heartland Hospice learned of Nick Dresch’s final wish: to take Mackenzie to Disney World in Florida. Knowing he was too sick to make the trip, the hospice group decided to bring a little bit of Disney to his Conway home. They ordered a cake and made arrangements with Imaginations costume store to send three characters: Anna, Elsa and Dresch’s childhood favorite, Scooby-Doo.
Dresch was in on the plan, too. If he couldn’t take his daughter to Disney World, he wanted her to have a small slice of its wonder.
Time was short, but everyone agreed there should be a day of celebration for the family. The hospice staff had even found Olaf the snowman pajamas so Dresch could dress for the occasion, too.
But the night before the big event, the husband, father, furniture maker, marathon runner and cartoon buff lost his war with brain cancer. He was 36.
Sitting on a white stool outside the couple’s home on Warwick Circle, Lisa Dresch said the event should go on. She wanted her daughter to enjoy what the man she loved believed she deserved.
Lisa Dresch first met the man she would marry on Facebook in 2010. She was playing the game FarmVille and added him as a friend with the hope of expanding her social media homestead.
As she looked through his photos, she noticed he was often in pictures with a young boy. She assumed he must be a single parent like her and she started chatting with him, looking for friendship. The boy turned out to be his nephew, but the two hit it off and kept talking online.
Their first outing together was a Fourth of July service at Tilly Swamp Baptist Church. She picked the location as a testing ground. If a man wanted a relationship with her, he had to get along with Mackenzie and he had to be willing to go to church with her.
The preschooler and Nick Dresch immediately hit it off. Usually shy around men, Mackenzie let him play with her. He even held the child.
The mother had no doubts.
“I knew he was a keeper,” she said.
The couple married two months later.
“He’s the one that made my sister happy,” said Christina Manuel, Lisa Dresch’s younger sister. “He was the one that treated her with respect.”
Nick Dresch adopted Mackenzie as his own. He read her bedtime stories and the two watched countless hours of Disney movies and Scooby-Doo cartoons.
“Anything cartoon or anything Disney,” Lisa Dresch said, “they watched it all.”
The family often went to the beach. Because Mackenzie was afraid to wade into the ocean, her father would dig out small pools for her to play in.
“He was the type of person, if you met him, he left a mark,” Lisa Dresch said. “You didn't forget him.”
Nick Dresch was also extremely health conscious. He avoided red meat and ate lots of spaghetti, using carbs to fuel his other passion: distance running.
For work, Dresch built custom office furniture. He also liked helping people with odd jobs. For his father-in-law, he hung ceiling tiles. For Manuel, his sister-in-law, he fixed the fuel pump on her car.
Even as the cancer became more aggressive, Nick Dresch continued offering his assistance.
“It didn’t matter if he was sick or not,” Manuel said.
‘I want his legacy to live on’
Nick Dresch didn’t realize he had brain cancer until the tumor had been growing for more than two years. He’d attributed the nausea and pain to other health issues. When the cancer was finally discovered, he underwent three brain surgeries. The doctors could find no solution.
In the final stages of his life, his wife served as his caretaker. When he spent three months in the hospital, she stayed by his side for all but one night.
During his last weeks, the family tried to keep him comfortable.
Nick Dresch found joy in the teacup Yorkie they brought home. And of course there was his princess with the light brown hair.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mackenzie snuck a few finger swipes of icing before the cake was cut. She showed off the blue and purple balloons. Then there were the Scooby-Doo gift bags.
“That’s for my Dad,” she said.
Despite all the day’s sadness, the miniature Anna beamed in the presence of the princesses, just the way her mother hoped she would.
And her father.
“I want his legacy to live on,” Lisa Dresch said. “He will still continue to touch people.”