Remembering Charlie

At 7 a.m.on Aug. 18, Abby McCollum was on the soccer field.

The sophomore stretched her long, 5-foot-11 frame, loosening her muscles in the cold morning air. Practice was starting.

The routine was nothing new; she had played the game since age four.

She is a McCollum, after all. And that means something.

Both her parents played sports. So did her uncles.

Her brothers played, too.

For a proud family who values physical ability, athletics isn't a hobby or even a job; it is a birthright.

Her presence on the field that morning was normal. The previous night was anything but.

Just five hours prior, a phone call had changed her life.


Emily Oberheimwoke up and glanced at the clock in the dorm room.

2 a.m.

In the other bed, McCollum was on the phone. Typically, Oberheim says, her roommate will talk late into the night and she thinks nothing of it.

This time was different, though. Oberheim sensed something might be wrong in the way McCollum spoke.

"What happened?" she heard her teammate say. "Tell me you're lying. I don't believe

She listened as McCollum hung up and called her mother, Becky.

"Is it true?" McCollum asked.

Oberheim didn't need to hear what was said on the other line. McCollum's reaction was enough.

"Her voice got really low, then high," Oberheim said. "She said, 'No.' It was so

What was scary for Oberheim was surreal for McCollum. Her mother had just confirmed what her sister had told her moments before:

Her father was dead.

"I got an adrenaline rush right away," McCollum said of the phone call. "I kind of knew. It was the worst feeling in the world, like a pit in my stomach."


Charles McCollum'swhite hair, white beard and big belly made him look like Santa Claus. At least, that's what Oberheim thought the first time she met him.

A teammate since last year, Oberheim often visited the McCollum home, which sits just 45 minutes away from campus in LaSalle, Mich.

Along with other team members, she met Charles on one of those visits. Oberheim said there was only one thing on his mind that day.

"All he did was talk about Abby," she said. "Everything was about her. I've never seen a dad talk about his daughter as much. He was so gratified to talk about her."

According to Abby, it was unusual for her dad to talk about much of anything.

Except on Sundays.

Charles was pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Monroe. His church family called him Pastor Charlie.

Preaching was his passion.

"He'd go overboard on Sundays," Abby said. "He could talk for hours and hours. You'd have to remind him what time it was."

He'd tell stories from the Bible and provide good analogies to relate them to everyday life, she said.

Those Sunday-morning sermons helped her develop faith.

"Belief happens, I guess," she said. "I'm very thankful for that. I wouldn't be the person I am today without it. I'm not perfect, but he taught me how to treat people. I get a lot of my morals and standards from him."

Outside of church, Charles – an avid outdoorsman – taught Abby much more.

They'd fish, hunt and four-wheel at their family's cabin in Oscoda.

She learned how to play sports like football, soccer and basketball from him, too.

Her memories of their countless trips to and from practices and games when she was young are some of her best, she said, because that's when her dad was healthy.

"I only had him for half of my life," she said. "He was sick the rest of it."


Born in Indiana, Charles spent lots of time – including his years in the seminary – in Kentucky. He was a good Southerner, Abby said.

And, like any good Southerner, Charles loved food.

"Chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, cornbread," she said. "We used to have dinners every Sunday after church. It was like a family reunion at grandma's house."

That food helped contribute to his Type 2 diabetes, which he had since his teenage years.

"Good food," Abby said. "You pay the price, though."

Four years ago, Charles had a heart attack. When his kidneys failed, he was put on dialysis.

Abby spent much time driving him to and from dialysis treatments, three times a week for four hours.

His situation worsened when Charcot, a weakening of the foot, forced him into a wheelchair.

"It's hard to see anybody like that," she said. "You grow up knowing your dad as this strong hero in your eyes and he ends up becoming old and frail. I mean, everybody ends up dying, but he was only 60."


Abby's mothertold her that another heart attack had ended her father's life. After that, she asked to talk to Oberheim.

"Her mom said, 'I really need you to be there for her,' " she said.

Oberheim wasn't sure how, but said she knew she had to drive her home.

Abby was grateful.

"I was in the bathroom hurling over the toilet," she said. "I was in no condition to drive."

They raced to LaSalle and arrived shortly after 3 a.m. That's when Abby saw her dad for the last time.

"He was laying in the back of the trunk of the paramedic's SUV," Oberheim said. "Abby just fell to the ground."

Oberheim, who hasn't lost anyone close to her, said watching the scene unfold was difficult.

"It was the saddest thing I've ever had to go through," she said. "It was so devastating. I didn't know what to do."

After spending some time with her family, Abby knew exactly what she needed to do.

"I need to go back to practice," Abby told Oberheim at about 5 a.m.

"I told her that we didn't have to leave," Oberheim said. "But she said, 'No, I have to go back and get my mind off it.' "

She is a McCollum, after all. And that means something.


Abby practicedwith the rest of the team that morning, just like any other day. But they all knew something was different.

"At the end of practice, coach gathered us all together," Oberheim said. "He started to tear up and said that we should dedicate this season to Charlie."

Mike Lupenec has coached at UDM for 19 years. He has never had to deal with anything like this.

He knew one thing immediately, though: The team would be at the funeral.

So on Monday, Aug. 22, more than 20 girls wearing matching team polos and travel pants entered and sat in a reserved section in the middle of the church.

"We're going to be there for her," Lupenec said. "That's the right way to deal with it."

Abby said the feeling she got upon seeing her teammates was indescribable.

"That's a memory I'll have for the rest of my life," she said. "They treat me like family. It uplifts your spirit. You lose somebody, but you gain all of them at the same time. It means a lot."


Soccer gamesat Titan Field are a little quieter this year. Pastor Charlie would scream for Abby from the sidelines just as vociferously as he'd deliver Sunday's sermon.

"He was a loud individual," Lupenec said. "He was hard on her as a player."

Abby said his voice was distinctive.

"You could definitely hear him over anyone else," she said. "He can carry his voice over crowds like you'd never believe. Sometimes he embarrassed me, but that's your dad."

She may not be able to hear his voice anymore, but her teammates make sure she hears his name.

Before every game, they cheer "Charlie!" because that's who they're playing for, Oberheim said.

"It's the last thing you remember before you go out there," Abby said. "Just to remember what you're playing for is important. You're not just out there for yourself. You're doing it for yourself, your teammates … and for him."

She hasn't missed a beat on the soccer field.

Through Tuesday, Abby leads the team in points with 14. She has three goals and two separate three-assist games.

"I think I've gotten better," she said. "I think I have a new drive and fire. Knowing I'm doing it for him gives me the push to do better."

This Sunday, exactly one month after Charles' death, Abby knows exactly where she'll be: on the soccer field, preparing for the team's first Horizon League matchup with Butler.

She is a McCollum, after all. And that means something.

Now more than ever.