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McNeiley family takes an unprecedented trip...

A Kenmare family that has faced a lot of adversity together, was recently given the opportunity to enjoy a week of euphoria.

5/22/18 (Tue)

A Kenmare family that has faced a lot of adversity together, was recently given the opportunity to enjoy a week of euphoria.

The McNeiley family; Ron, Tami, Jaden and Abigail, took the trip of a lifetime in April and spent a week at Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla.

It was made possible through the Marsha Leigh Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to families that have a loved one dealing with cancer.

Tami McNeiley, who has been battling cancer the past five years, was nearly as giddy as a teenager as she explained  her family’s unique trip from a unique organization.

“We did crazy things and had fun,” she said. “Imagination has no age limit and that’s Disneyworld. There’s always something new.”

Troy and Adam Espeseth built the Marsha Leigh Foundation, along with their father and blended family. It is in memory of their mother so that similar families might enjoy the same enjoyment they did 30 years ago in spite of having a family member with cancer.

Their mother, Marsha Leigh, had cancer when Troy and Adam were boys and one of her last and most memorable wishes was taking them to Disneyworld.

Three decades later, the Espeseths wanted to find a North Dakota family similar to theirs and officially launch the Marsha Leigh Foundation.

According to Tami McNeiley, it’s similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, however, it grants wishes for families, not just individuals.

“The Espeseths are real people. This isn’t something off the wall,” she said. “This is so personal, it’s mind boggling they’d do something like this for others.”

McNeiley explained it was a stroke of luck that lined the family up with the foundation.

The McNeileys were at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., last October and a lady working in an office was talking to a doctor who was asking if she knew anyone from North Dakota with stage 4 cancer.

It turns out, Tami’s cousin Jill works in that same office, overheard the conversation and said “she’s out in the lobby.”

Coincidentally, it was Adam Espeseth’s wife and it was her cousin Jill who introduced them to each other.

McNeiley said it was a situation of being in the right place at the right time.

A few days later, an unsuspecting Tami received a phone call.

“They called me and wanted to talk about better treatment (for cancer patients),” she said. “I tried to think taxi rides as a benefit.”

About that same time, the McNeileys learned that Ron needed to have back surgery on Dec. 22 in Rochester.

Tami recalls it was a Tuesday when she told the kids there most likely wouldn’t be a Christmas because of Ron’s surgery and the best thing she could offer is the family would be together to support Ron through the procedure.

The next day she was put on a conference call with the Espeseth family and she was fully expecting to offer input for cancer patients.

“‘We’re not here to get your advice,”’ they told her. “‘Our mom died 30 years ago and we’d like to give you a trip.”

McNeiley said she was quiet for a short time, then began crying.

“On Dec. 21, they met us in Rochester,” she said. “It was 30 years to the day she died. It was fitting that we’d meet. The whole thing has brought their family together. She gave them a Disneyworld trip.”

Tami said the Espeseths are the kindest people and are very generous. Ron added they flew into Minneapolis and drove to Rochester, approximately 90 miles, just to see the McNeileys that day.

Tami said all she wanted was for the family to be together and this certainly took it up a notch.

They did spend Christmas in a hotel room in Rochester, but Tami said it was probably the best Christmas she ever had as they played games and put puzzles together and of course, visited Ron as often as they could while he was in recovery.

But the McNeileys have done a lot of things together as a family and, according to Tami, that’s huge motivation for her.

In fact, because Ron grew up a Chicago Cubs fan, when the Cubs made it to the World Series in 2016, the McNeileys made a family festival of the World Series.

It’s how this family rolls, despite what Tami has gone through.

Perhaps Jaden McNeiley put it best. He said none of us should take things for granted, especially if we’re not affected by someone with an illness in the family. The McNeileys live day to day and make the best of it. He added they’ve changed their minds and have had to adjust as he’s sure other families will in the future.

“In a sense, this trip has brought us closer than before,” he said. “It was the ultimate vacation resort. Our room overlooked a zoo with giraffes and zebras.”

As Tami described it, the Marsha Leigh Foundation thought of everything, down to snacks and taxi rides as the well as the flight.

“They paid for everything,” she said. “We didn’t have to worry about meals or any of it. They took care of it all.”

This seems like a fairy tale indeed, and based on the fun the McNeileys had, it was. But why did the Espeseths do something like this for a family they hadn’t met until Christmas of last year.

“They’re trying to go back to that enjoyable time with their mom,” she said. “They’re trying to do the same for someone else.”

Not only was this the trip of a lifetime for the McNeileys, but it was also the inaugural gift for the Marsha Leigh Foundation.

The Espeseths wanted to do this for a North Dakota family because of their own roots in Stutsman County. However, as Tami explains it, they expect to open it up to cancer patients nationwide that could include more North Dakota residents.

“This will be a nationwide affair,” Tami said. “It’s about families, not individuals.”

To nominate a deserving family for an unforgettable experience, you can go to the website (

In addition, the family may be contacted at (  Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!