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The Dash Between: Craig Behrend put family first, working hard a close second

When Craig Behrend was a student at Avon Lake High School, he foresaw what he believed would be his ideal life.

“My future will be pretty good, if it goes as planned,” the teenager prophesied in his autobiography. “I plan to graduate from Ohio Tech, purchase my own house with a big garage and have a wife with one boy.”

Since graduating from high school in 2002, Craig married the former Casie Moran and became the father of one son, Mark, now 2½.

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He bought a house with a not-so-big garage in his old hometown, close enough to his parents’ home to make use of their sizable garage.

Instead of going to Ohio Technical College, he joined the Army and became a combat engineer.

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates: The life that a person lived.

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas. Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between Dec. 17, 1983, when Craig Behrend was born in Cleveland, and Nov. 9, 2009, when the 25-year-old Avon Lake resident died of complications from cancer.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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In 2006, about two weeks before he was to be deployed to Iraq, Craig was promoted to sergeant. That same day, he was diagnosed with a type of testicular cancer.

Craig died of complications from cancer on Nov. 9 at age 25.

He was born December 17, 1983, in a Cleveland hospital and lived most of his life in Avon Lake.

His sisters, Cindy Zanny and Brenda Behrend, his father Ernie’s children from a previous marriage, were considerably older. The family celebrated both Craig’s baptism and Brenda’s high school graduation with one party.

As a toddler, Craig emulated his dad, who worked as a mechanic and in maintenance at Union Carbide and Ford Motor Co.

“He always had a screwdriver in his hand, trying to fix things,” said Craig’s mom, Betty, who worked at Springvale Golf Course in North Olmsted.

In his high school autobiography, Craig shared his beliefs about family and work.

“I feel that family comes before everyone else; Business before pleasure,” he wrote. “No one should steal. I think people should handle their business and get paid so they don’t have to steal.”

Instead of becoming involved in extracurricular activities at Avon Lake High, “He was involved in trying to get out and start working,” said his wife, Casie.

As part of the Occupational Work Experience program, Craig worked half days at Helical Line Products, Gander Mountain outdoors store and Quizno’s sub shop, where he became good friends with co-worker Casie Moran.

“I didn’t really know him at school,” Casie said. “I just saw him. I was a year ahead of him. After a little bit of time (of being co-workers and friends), we decided to try dating. And it worked out.”

Craig had been serving with the 577th 1st Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for about a year before he and Casie were married on July 3, 2004.

When he re-enlisted with hopes of going to Iraq, he was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, to serve with 2nd Battalion Armored Cavalry Engineer Co.

“Echo Company 2-12 Cavalry,” fellow soldier Ken Warburton said. “We were 4th Brigade. Our brigade stood up at Fort Bliss as a detached unit. When I was deployed, Craig and Casie were there for my wife and kids. He was a great guy.”

After initial rounds of cancer treatment, Craig returned to duty briefly before he was given a medical retirement.

Before returning to Avon Lake in July 2007, Craig lined up a job at Dominion East Ohio Gas.

He started as a meter reader, walking six to seven hours a day in the Miles Road/Randall Park area of Cleveland and Warrensville Heights. Before long, Craig was installing automatic meter-reading devices and working out of Dominion’s Wickliffe office.

His last job was in the new engineering and corrosion department, based at East 55th Street in Cleveland.

By April 2008, Craig’s cancer had returned and metastasized. Regardless of how sick he became from chemotherapy, he insisted on going to work.

“I heard the Friday before he died, he was out in the field with another guy,” his boss, Dan Newman, said. “He was a hard, hard worker. This kid was an inspiration to everybody.”

Yet Craig was not all work and no play. He and his buddies, Brandon Baker and Pat Evans, kept having fun at their favorite hunting grounds in Avon, Camden Township and Sandusky Bay and while fishing for walleye and perch.

His pals take credit for introducing Craig to goose hunting.

“From then on, he went nuts on buying equipment (including countless duck decoys),” Baker said.

Craig would take pains to have decoys set up his way, only to have his friends rearrange them.

“It had to be his way or the highway,” Baker said. “It always made us laugh.”

Craig’s cousin Amanda Smith also recalls his determination and unforgettable smile.

“After Craig would get his own way, which for the record he always did, he would look at us cousins and smile, and we would get so mad,” Smith said.

“Once he started his battle against cancer, that same smile that could get us cousins so mad was so inspirational to see. He was so strong and positive.”

Alana Baranick can be reached by email at abaranick@chroniclet.com or by phone at 216-862-2617.

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