May 20 • 10:52 AM

Finding strength in face of tragedy

Dryden photographer uses skills to honor memory of brother killed by CO poisioning

Dawn displays sofa-sized print of ‘Buckley kissed by the Sun,’ a photo she captured outside of her Dryden area home. She’s offering this and four other wildlife photos she’s taken for sale to raise funds to honor her brother’s memory. His life was cut short by carbon monoxide poisioning on New Year’s Eve. photo by Catherine Minolli.

February 20, 2008
When Dawn Kopp was snuggling up next to her newly converted wood burning fireplace during the holiday season, one thought kept popping into her brain: Carbon monoxide.

Dawn's says she became almost obsessive thinking about it, stressing to her husband Erich that they needed to install a carbon monoxide detector in the living room.

As it turns out, Dawn's obsession had an erie parallell. A few days after the New Year dawned, she learned that her brother had lost his life to accidental carbon monoxide poisioning.

"What's so amazing to me is we starting using wood in the fireplace and I was almost obsessed about having a carbon monoxide detector right around the same time that he passed," Dawn says, referring to her 42-year-old brother Randy.

Though she hadn't seen him in a while, Dawn always held a special place in her heart for Randy. Like Dawn, Randy was a nature-lover, someone who relished his time off of work to travel to the lesser populated places like Manistique in Michigan's UP to relax and enjoy the wonders of nature.

"He loved to just breathe deep that clean Lake Michigan air and watch the waves crash over the breakwall by the Manistique Lighthouse every chance that he could," Dawn says.

That's something she can relate to. Along with her job as an animal groomer at Oxford Mills Veterinary Clinic, the 37-year-old nature enthusiast spends hours behind a camera lens, waiting patiently for the perfect outdoor shot.

Some may remember her 'deer Christmas cards' featuring candid shots of the gentle creatures nosing up to some colorful decorations she'd placed on pine trees in her Dryden Twp. yard. Many locals purchased Dawn's cards, which were available at the Country Corner and Country Smoke House in Almont.

Touched and a little surprised by the community support, Dawn says finding an outlet for her work fills her with gratitude.

That's why she's embarked on a new endeavor, blending her photography skills and love of nature to honor her brother's memory.

Unexpected news...

Dawn's holidays were joyful, and she was especially pleased that her Christmas cards were well received by local folks.

Dall sheep in Alaska’s Denali National Park is one of Dawn’s photos being offered to raise funds in memory of her brother. photo by Photo by Dawn Kopp.

"I am so grateful to everyone who went out and bought my cards, their support was amazing," she says.

But just a week after Christmas, Dawn's high spirits were crushed when she learned that Randy had died.

Randy made a living as an abatement worker charged with removing asbestos from buildings around the state. The job kept him on the go quite a bit, so sometimes he'd pull into a rest area to catch a few winks before reporting to his next job.

Always reliable, Randy's employers were concerned when he didn't report for work in January.

Dawn was notifed on January 4th that her brother was found dead in his truck at a rest stop in Holly.

"We suspect he'd pulled over on New Year's Eve to wait out the bad snowstorm that hit the area," she says. "He had a small propane space heater to keep warm. He fell asleep in the back seat and never woke up."

What's worse, Dawn says, is no one knew it. Because of all the snow, Randy wasn't discovered until four days later.

Coping and hoping

Dawn's New Year was filled with sadness. Then she starting trying to find a way to make something positive out of the tragedy.

"I began thinking of how I could use my wildlfe and other images from my photogrophy to contribute, to give back to the community," Dawn says. "I wanted to do something to help a charity, but had not thought of what to do or which charity."

With the thought of honoring her brother's life on her mind, Dawn's mission became clear.

While in his 20s, Randy had suffered a closed head injury in a car accident. He was always somewhat of a loner, but Dawn recalled that his personality changed a little since then. One thing that remained constant, though, was his love of nature and all things wild. She decided to offer five of her most outstanding wildlife photos for purchase to anyone interested, with the proceeds benefiting the Brain Injury Association of Michigan and the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the UP.

Photos are being offered in two sizes—8"x12" for $25 or 20"x30" for $100. All profits will benefit the above listed charities.

Dawn chose some of her best shots to honor her brother's life.

They include a Bison cow and calf she captured in South Dakota in September while attending a weeklong photography workshop in the Badlands National Park. Those who purchased or saw Dawn's Christmas cards will remember another shot she chose called 'Buckley kissed by the sun.' In what she refers to as 'the Monet' of her photographs, she captured an 8-point buck standing near a pine tree bathed in a patch of buttery sunlight.

Cobblestones being washed by the frigid Lake Superior tide are pictured in another offering.

"This is an image my brother would truly be proud of," Dawn says. "Crisp Lake Superior washing over unique colored stones."

A fourth photo comes from Denali National Park in Alaska. A Dall sheep overlooks a craggy pass that's flecked with lush mountain plants.

The final is another shot of Buckly bending down to nuzzle a spotted fawn taken in the summer outside her home.

Anyone interested in purchasing one of the gallery quality photos may do so by sending their name, address and description of the image Dawn Kopp, P.O. Box 53, Dryden, MI 48428.

Payment by money order must be made at the time the order is placed. Prices are $25 for an 8"x12" and $100 for a 20"x30".

"Randy was a nature buff who loved photography, and I hope to be able to honor his memory and give back to the community as well," Dawn says.

Spreading the word

Along with her efforts to raise funds for good causes in her brother's memory, Dawn is adamant about reminding people that carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent killer.

The colorless, ordorless, tasteless gas is toxic and dangerous.

High levels of CO can accumulate if fuel is not burning properly or when spaces aren't ventilated enough to allow the gas to escape.

Physical symptoms of unsafe exposure include headache, dizziness, mausea, convulsions and loss of mental function.

The best way to avoid becoming avictim of CO poisioning is to install a carbon monoxide detector alarm with a low level indicator. They're available at hardware stores, discount stores and online.

Also be sure gas appliances are working correctly; check flues; be sure ventilation is adequate and follow up with a physician if experiencing fatigue, muscle pains, dizziness, headaches and lethargy.

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