More than 1,000 family members and friends of Michelle Carew, the 18-year-old daughter of baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, said goodbye Friday and remembered the leukemia victim as a beautiful young woman “with a warm smile.”
The memorial service, held at Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana, where Carew and his wife, Marilynn worship, was filled with both somber and enjoyable moments as Michelle’s sisters, friends and father shared poignant recollections.
It was held two days after the teenager died of acute nonlymphocytic leukemia at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Her seven-month battle against the disease included a well-publicized search for a bone marrow donor that sparked donor interest worldwide.
Mourners included Angel owner Gene Autry and players past and present, including Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Lee Smith and Chuck Finley. Pallbearers included Angel designated hitter Chili Davis and Rene Gonzales, a former Angel player who was close to the family.
Rabbi Frank Stern remembered Michelle as a young woman “with spunk,” who even in the most trying circumstances had a sunny disposition and strength.
When doctors explained a difficult upcoming surgical procedure to Michelle, Stern said, she lightened the situation with, “Let’s hurry up. My soaps come on at 12 noon.”
In an unexpected moment at the service, Rod Carew urged mourners to remember the best about “his little girl.”
“If she saw someone who didn’t have a smile, she would take hers off and put it on them,” her father said as his voice cracked.
Carew told of his daughter’s courage. He recalled that when she first learned she had leukemia, she quickly asked doctors, “Do I have a chance?” When they said yes, Carew said, she responded, “ ‘That’s all I need to know.’ She didn’t cry, she didn’t complain. She just accepted it. That’s the way Michelle had done things all her life.”
Most of all, Carew said, “I’m going to miss the way she used to say, ‘I love you, Daddy.’ ”
Others said Michelle’s legacy is the interest she spurred in bone marrow donations.
Stern told of the international search and the family’s pleas on behalf of Michelle to find a suitable donor. None was found. Michelle’s genetic makeup had complicated the search; she was the daughter of a black man with West Indian-Panamanian lineage and a white mother of Russian-Jewish descent.
“But through those efforts, thousands registered to be tested as donors,” Stern said. “That is Michelle’s legacy. . . . If we want to remember Michelle, let’s do it by helping someone in need.”
The National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis received more than 70,000 calls after Michelle’s condition was diagnosed last fall. In the 12 hours after Michelle’s death, nearly 3,000 people inquired about joining the bone marrow registry.
Michelle’s friend, Bobby Orduno, 20, of Perris, thanked her parents for “raising such a beautiful daughter. Michelle will always be in my heart.”
For Darra Landman, 18, who attended Canyon High in Anaheim Hills with Michelle and was among those who kept vigils by her bedside, saying goodbye to her friend was difficult.
“Misha taught her friends how to face every day, even the toughest days, with a smile,” Landman said during the service. “Misha would want me to tell you to smile. She would want me to tell you a joke.”
A funeral service is scheduled Sunday, with burial at United Hebrew Brotherhood Cemetery near Minneapolis in Richfield, Minn.
The family advises that donations may be made to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, in care of Childrens Hospital of Orange County, P.O. Box 1076, Orange, 92668-0076.