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Ashland rallies behind SOU professor

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Dee Fretwell enjoys a sandwich from Sammich in Ashland last week. The Southern Oregon University business professor has a sandwich, the “Deewich,” named in her honor as a benefit toward her medical expenses.
Signature sandwich, pizza and concert among ways to support medical battle

ASHLAND — Local people and businesses are rallying behind Southern Oregon University instructor and local music promoter Dee Fretwell as she heads to Arizona April 16 for radiation treatment to shrink two brain tumors located precariously close to her optic nerve.

A full-time professor in the SOU School of Business, Fretwell this week said she was soaking up support from friends and family before five days of radiation and at least a three-week recovery.

Restaurants and local musicians have stepped up with shows of support ranging from naming a sandwich after Fretwell, 46, to hosting the “Dee-apalooza” music event in her honor.

Doctors discovered a pair of tumors near Fretwell’s optic nerve at the end of January after three years of symptoms attributed by doctors to “normalcy for a middle-aged woman,” Fretwell said.

The tumors, which doctors don’t believe are cancerous, must be addressed quickly using stereotactic radiative surgery due to the size of the larger tumor and risk to her optic nerve should it grow.

Helping lead the charge to support Fretwell and her family during her upcoming recovery, Sammich sandwich shop owner Melissa McMillan re-designed Fretwell’s favorite menu item, the Tre sandwich.

“Dee loves Philly. I love Chicago. It’s the quintessential grinder. It’s basically a hotted-up version of the Tre,” McMillan explained. ‘The Frewell’ features prosciutto, salami, provolone, house-made giardiniera.

McMillan said Fretwell had been a big supporter of both her business and her foray into coaching local baseball when she first came to Ashland.

“Dee didn’t help me break the glass ceiling. She helped me SHATTER the glass ceiling. On the baseball field, 15-plus years ago she gave me the confidence to do that. She is consistently, for all the time I’ve known her, always helping other people be better,” McMillan said.

“I was a stranger in Southern Oregon and a gay woman who really just wanted to be a part of baseball and coach baseball, and she got me involved and literally stuck her neck out and trusted me with her kid. Because of that I’ve been able to live one of my dreams. I don’t know a lot of people as selfless as Dee. She thinks more about helping other people than she does about helping herself.”

In addition to the Sammich fundraiser, which runs through mid-April, Northwest Pizza and Pasta Company is donating 100% of its “Pizza with a Purpose” sales to Fretwell, a big supporter of the pizzeria over the years.

A nod to Fretwell’s efforts to promote local music, Dee-apalooza, hosted by the West Coast Country Music Festival, is set for 4-7 p.m., Sunday, April 10, at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E. Nevada St.

The lineup includes Alice DiMicele, LEFT, Phoenix Sigalove, Justin Gordon, David Pinsky and Phil Newton, Dangerous Lee and Rattlin Three, The Dusty Rubies, Creekside Strings, and the The Esprit de Coeur Quartet. Other activities, including dancing and a silent auction, are also planned to help Fretwell in her recovery.

The site touts Fretwell as “the brains, heart and a good part of the muscle behind this little gem of a festival.”

Debbie Thornton, a local photographer and close friend of Fretwell, said she wasn’t surprised by the community’s outpouring.

“Dee is a straight-shooting bad ass with a heart of gold who has done more for our community than anyone I know. What that woman gets done in any given day, and what she gives to the people she loves, our community and the world as a whole is pretty phenomenal. She’s a huge supporter of music arts and put her energy where her mouth is by creating a music foundation that helps pay for music lessons and instruments for low-income youth,” Thornton said.

“She also produces an annual country music festival in the Green Springs that brings together local and world-class musicians, and she travels to music festivals around the world. She needs to stick around to keep the music alive.”

A nod to her devotion to teaching and inspiring others, Fretwell said she was saddened that her treatment schedule would impact her chance to attend Dee-apalooza, and her participation in the second half of an upcoming collaboration via 100,000 Strong, between students in Southern Oregon and the University of Guanajuato.

“100,000 Strong is so very important to me. These brain tumors interrupt a very important goal of mine, to foster a continued mutual respect for our participating communities through unique business relationships with local businesses in both cities,” she said.

“I literally told doctors that if safe, I would only begin treatment after our colleagues from Mexico came and completed the first half of this program.”

Fretwell said community support had been a boost for her in recent weeks.

“Our community is incredible. Time and time again we have seen just how strong and deep our community heartbeat is, and the response to my condition is no exception. I'm humbled, and our family is forever touched and grateful for this,” said Fretwell.

“Between words of encouragement and support, financial donations that surely none of us can spare, and the best virtual hugs around, I speak for my family when I say we live in the best community. Our whole world has rallied around us to hold us up as we navigate this. … We will never take this love and support for granted.”

For more information:

For updates, see caringbridge.org/visit/deelightful

To contribute, see the Gofundme page at https://bit.ly/3J2Id4N

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.