The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 18, 2013

Legendary Osmond brother performing benefit concert in Blue Earth

Legendary performer headlining scleroderma benefit in Blue Earth

By Tanner Kent

---- — So, how is it that Merrill Osmond -- the same man who helped sell more than 100 million records worldwide as the golden-voiced lead singer of the Osmond family -- comes to perform on a fairground grandstand on a Saturday night in Blue Earth?

Well, that’s a long story.

But it begins when Cara Marie was just a 12-year-old Winnebago girl who, like so many other mostly teenage girls in the United States and Europe in the early 1970s, was a devoted fan of the clean-cut and boyishly handsome Osmond brothers (Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay and Donny).

When Cara convinced her mom to take her to an Osmonds concert at Metropolitan Stadium, she was intent on meeting one of the Osmonds in person. They arrived for soundcheck and stayed through the concert. Afterward, they camped out at one of the arena's rear exits. Cara's mother actually got close enough to Donny to try and corral him by the arm, but he slipped away to the bus.

So, Cara's mother did what any other mother who had driven two hours so her daughter could see her favorite band would do: She herded her daughter into the car, stepped on the gas and followed the band's bus to the hotel.

Though they never did meet one of the brothers that day, they did happen to stop for a bite to eat a nearby restaurant -- where, as luck would have it, Marie Osmond and her mother were also dining.

Marie and Cara, who were of similar ages, struck up an instant friendship. Even after that fateful meeting, they pair continued to trade letters over the years and Marie would always invite Cara backstage when she performed in Minnesota.

"We sat and visited, and Marie and I just hit it off," Cara said. "Things just snowballed over the years."

Through her connection with Marie, she met and formed friendships with the rest of the Osmond family.

She eventually adopted their Mormon faith with Merrill even performing a special ordination for her mission work. Later, she relocated to Utah and partnered with the brothers on various professional and charitable projects. She's co-written books and music with Merrill and has helped out with events for the Starkey Hearing Foundation, of which the Osmonds are ardent supporters.

In 2005, however, Cara Marie’s mother was diagnosed with a debilitating but little understood disease called pulmonary arterial hypertensive scleroderma. Little more than three years after her diagnosis, her mother died from its effects.

Determined to make a difference for others afflicted by the rare and deadly disease, Cara Marie approached Merrill Osmond last spring about performing a benefit concert. The man who is widely known for his generous philanthropic efforts, of course, said yes.

“I don’t think there are too many celebrities who would come down to Blue Earth and perform on a grandstand stage,” Cara Marie said.

For Cara, the event represents a victory in the fight to shed some light on the dark disease that took her mother's life.

The form of scleroderma that affected Cara's mother was a systemic variety that essentially causes an excess of collagen and fibrous material to harden and thicken skin and internal organs. When her mother was diagnosed, the disease had already spread to her lungs and heart, causing her shortness of breath and putting extreme stress on her circulatory system.

In the next few years, the disease would spread to her limbs, face, esophagus and mouth.

"When you touched her arms, it felt almost like they were petrified," Cara said, recalling the four years that she moved back to Winnebago to care for her mother. "It's deforming, too. It makes people who have it feel very self-conscious and isolated."

The disease is exceedingly rare as well as difficult and expensive to treat. Cara said her mother spent in excess of $7,000 a month for just one of her prescription drugs.

With such stigma and mystery still attached to the disease, Cara said her mother would want to share her story if it might help others.

"She was a cheerleader her whole life," Cara said. "She was a cheerleader in high school, a cheerleader for her family and I know she would have been a cheerleader for other people like her."

If You Go What Merrill Osmond benefit concert for the Darlene Marie Thompson Scleroderma Benefit Fund When Event begins at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday Where Faribault County Fairgrounds Tickets $15 Notes Overflow seating is on lawn chairs. Opening acts include Kerry Summers and Tom Paschke. Merrill's performance will include a history of the Osmonds as well as selections from his recent recordings of Elvis Presley songs, many of which he's never performed live.