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Emma Mertens

Emma Mertens, 8, of Hartland, Wisconsin, had asked for many photos of dogs to comfort her in her battle with cancer. She died on Nov. 17.

Last spring I learned about a 7-year-old young lady from Hartland, Wisconsin, Emma Mertens, who had a rare, terminal brain tumor.

Young Emma happened to be a huge animal lover and most specifically was her love for dogs. I read where family and friends began emailing as well as mailing pictures of their family dogs to Emma to cheer her up through her illness. As word spread and social media would gift her, young Emma began receiving thousands of email and snail mail pictures of peoples dogs all over the world.

There was no way my day would be complete without doing the same. I dug out a picture of our dog “Miss Barkley” and wrote a story that night as if “Miss Barkley” was telling Emma. Barkley and I called the story, “Dog Prayers For Emma.”

After the Waverly Newspaper published it, I cut it out of the paper and mailed the story to Emma. Unbeknownst to me, Emma had received a truck load of mail the day my package arrived at her home. This I learned through an email from her teacher, Jean Voelkel.

Jean told me she was helping the family sort through the piles of mail. She said she pulled my package from the piles based on the Waverly return address. She said she used to live here in Waverly with the Fosters while going to Wartburg. (It’s a small world.)

Since March, Emma has experienced a battery of treatments, hospital visits, and surgeries, however her parents Tammy and Geoff made sure she continued doing the things she loved to do. She enjoyed being outside, swimming, soccer, golf, and tennis. “Our goal has always been to take this one day at a time and keep things as normal as possible for her,” explained Geoff Mertens.

Sadly, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 the young lady who received tens of thousands of cards and dog pictures from all over this world, peacefully lost her battle with brain cancer in her own home, surrounded by family.

An 8-year-old child was able to show the world that love isn’t something you have, keep, or shelter within, rather, love is something you give away.

I can’t think of a better way to be remembered than the love and kindness you share from the heart.

Though Emma could only be here for such a short while, she’ll stay and remain close for the rest of our lives.

Writer’s note: For the dozens of local residents that sent Emma cards and photos, I know it was appreciated.

J.D. Francis is a Waverly businessman and developer who also writes a monthly feature series called “Cattin’ Main.” He can be reached at