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Yorba Linda Executive Fights Cancer With a Book of Love

He'll use profits from his mother-in-law's story to combat the disease that killed his wife and the author.

November 04, 2005|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Harald Herrmann was sorting through his mother-in-law's belongings shortly after she died of cancer last year when he came across a treasure he hopes will save lives.

Scrawled in the woman's own hand on three notebook pages was a children's story she had written for Austin, her 9-year-old grandson.

"I got about a third of the way through it and stopped," said Herrmann, 40, Austin's dad and chief operating officer of the Irvine-based Yard House Restaurants. "I knew right then that I would put the book out."

The result is "Bowregarde: The Tale of a Little Mouse With a Big Name," by Fran Creegan, an illustrated hard-bound children's book that Herrmann paid to have printed. He hopes to sell the books for $15.95 and donate the proceeds to help people with cancer, the disease that also killed his wife.

The Yorba Linda resident said he hoped his efforts would help the search for a cure, and provide a happy ending to his tale.

It began nine years ago when Herrmann's wife, Kathie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. For eight years, he says, she fought the disease while raising their son.

"She had a spirit that sucked you in," Herrmann said. "People gravitated toward her. She had a tremendous outlook. Our motto was 'It is what it is.' We tried to never let the cancer rule our lives."

The disease spread to Kathie's brain, liver, lungs and bones. She died at home at age 39 on Jan. 12, 2004.

Through it all, Grandma Creegan, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, stood by like a rock. "She was like a second mom to Austin," Herrmann recalled. "When Kathie died, he said, 'Grandma, you need to be my mommy now.' "

Nine months later she too was dead, at age 61.

Herrmann isn't sure when Creegan wrote the story of how Bowregarde, the tiny mouse whose name was too big, met Herc, the huge hippopotamus whose name was too small. Both animals' problems are solved by a "very wise owl" they meet in the jungle.

"Perhaps [she wrote it] because, growing up, she never cared for her own name," Herrmann suggested.

About 8,000 copies of the book, illustrated by Costa Mesa artist Marilyn ScottWaters, are available online at Herrmann hopes to sell books to hospitals and by networking with cancer-related groups.

"It's a really charming story," Scott-Waters said. "I would literally finish a picture, then cry."

Herrmann sees the book as the first in a series of Bowregarde writings and products. He has designed a 4-inch stuffed-animal "Pocket Bo" mouse companion for sick children that he hopes to start selling next year. He's planning to publish a book by a leukemia patient about a mouse who loses her hair. And he's commissioned illustrations starring a rabbit named Ernie, who explains medical procedures to children.

Ally Aiton, a child life specialist at Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach, says she thinks the Ernie book will be used nationally. The hospital already uses the Bowregarde book to entertain children in its waiting room.

Herrmann has chosen two organizations to receive the money he hopes his projects will earn. One is Breast Cancer Angels, an organization in Cypress for women with the disease and for their families.

"His story made me cry," said Faye Dietiker, the group's founder and director. "It's a wonderful tribute to his wife and mother-in-law" and the fact that her organization will benefit, she said, makes it "an awesome tribute to us, too."

The other organization is Kids Konnected, a Laguna Hills-based support group for children of cancer patients, that advertises the book on its website.

"I'm after the little grass-roots organizations where the money really makes a difference," Herrmann said. "I see this as a [project] that creates awareness, provides information and donates money."

In editing his mother-in-law's manuscript, Herrmann said, he made only one minor change: naming the story's "very wise owl" heroine after his wife.

"It keeps the memory of Kathie and her mother alive," he said. "It's something that my son can someday be proud of. It leaves a mark that somehow makes their suffering not in vain."

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