Dancer’s tragic death doesn’t end her dream

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03/18/2014 7:24 PM

05/16/2014 12:35 PM

Every weekday, Mike Mogenson got up for work around 7 a.m. After getting dressed, the Prairie Village lawyer leaned over to his pretty blonde wife, as she remained snuggled in their bed, and gently kissed her right temple. Looking up, with a sleepy smile, Tiffany helped him fix his shirt collar. It became their morning ritual, something they both looked forward to. He still felt her soft skin on his lips when Tiffany called at 9:47 a.m. on Oct. 11 last year, just to say “I love you.” It would be the last time they would speak. Three hours later, as Tiffany waited at a red light at 75th Street and Roe Avenue, her car was struck from behind by a black Mercedes driven by a man who was eluding Prairie Village police. The impact pushed her car into oncoming traffic where it collided with a large truck. Tiffany, 30, died before she had time to react. Shortly after the accident, Mike Mogenson was sitting in his Overland Park law office when his brother-in-law called, concerned that Tiffany hadn’t picked up her niece from school as planned. When Tiffany didn’t answer her cellphone, her husband knew something was wrong. Without knowing where to go, he jumped into his car and drove. When he approached the barricaded intersection at 75th Street and Roe, it didn’t occur to him that Tiffany might be there. He took the detour. Mogenson learned the truth in a phone call from a friend who worked at a local news station. He swerved his car around, parked near the barricade and ran toward the scene. An officer tried to stop him. “That’s my wife,” Mogenson shouted. “Is she OK?” The officer put his head down. Mogenson kept running. This time, several officers approached him. “My wife,” he cried out. Those officers, too, lowered their heads. With the scenery spinning around him, Mogenson realized that his wife was gone. Police officers wouldn’t let him near the accident at first, saying it was a crime scene that needed to be preserved. As Mogenson learned the details, he respected the officers’ wishes and held back, in agony, awaiting further instruction. When the rescue team cut Tiffany’s body from the car, Mogenson was by her side. When she was eventually released from the mangled vehicle, he kissed her lovingly on the cheek, reminiscent of those countless cozy mornings. But this time, Tiffany didn’t wake up.
Tiffany was more than a happy, loving wife. She was a dancer. A businesswoman. An educator. Tiffany discovered her passion as a toddler and had made her dream come true. When she was 2 years old, and living with her family in Blue Springs, Tiffany watched with adoration, and a little bit of envy, as older sister Stacey twirled around in dance class. A year later, Tiffany’s parents placed her in class as well, and they were astounded by her natural talent. Later, Tiffany would dance competitively across the nation. She was a four-year member of the University of Missouri’s nationally acclaimed dance team, The Golden Girls. She later became a Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader and at age 25, opened her very own dance studio in Blue Springs, called The Pointe. She started with 12 girls. Five years later, she was up to 150 students. As her dance studio grew, Tiffany inevitably became busier. But it was a passionate, exciting juggling of tasks, Mogenson recalls. Several months in advance, Tiffany was booking hotels for her students’ first out-of-town national competition in Chicago, occurring this summer. She taught classes and scrutinized every detail of the studio, choosing the perfect costumes and tracking finances. The night before she died, Tiffany emailed the parents of her dance students with an idea she’d been working on for weeks. Tiffany knew how pricey being a competitive dancer could be. The costs of costumes, workshops and competition fees add up quickly. She wanted to create a scholarship that would help dancers follow their dream.
The days following her death in mid-October were a nightmarish blur to her grieving husband. But when he saw Tiffany’s dance students release balloons into the sky, in her memory, he saw the future very clearly. “Tiffany created more than a dance studio. She really created a huge family,” Mogenson said. “After she passed, I realized there was absolutely no way I was going to let the studio close, even though I had no idea how I was going to keep it going. “For a guy who played football and practices law, running a dance studio seemed completely out of my realm.” But he had help. Tiffany’s parents and older sister, Stacey Chaloux, jumped on board without hesitation. Within a week they made the transition, with Mogenson as the new owner of The Pointe and her family managing day-to-day operations. “Teaching dance put a sparkle in Tiffany’s eye,” said Brigitte Bartolla, a dance instructor at The Pointe. “I know Tiffany’s worst fear would have been for the studio to close, so I was ecstatic that her family chose to keep it open. Her family, her husband, they’re amazing, selfless people.” One of her dancers, Brooke Welle, agrees. The 16-year-old has been a student at the studio since opening day, and she’s thrilled that her former teacher’s hard work is continuing on. “Tiffany put her heart and soul into the studio and it has been really cool to see it grow in such a short period of time,” said Welle, a sophomore at Grain Valley High School. “Tiffany was my role model because she was always happy and smiling and she had the kindest heart.”
Running a studio has not been easy. “It’s a labor of love and it definitely keeps us busy, but none of us mind,” said Tiffany’s mother, Terri Platania of Oak Grove. “We were proud of Tiffany for all of her hard work, but it wasn’t until we saw firsthand the sheer amount of details that went on behind the scenes that we realized just how much hard work she had actually been doing.” Everything Tiffany had done, from ordering costumes to booking hotels for competitions, required a meticulous eye. It has taken three to four people, plus additional teaching staff, to fill Tiffany’s shoes, her older sister marveled. “It’s all worth it because we’re keeping a piece of Tiffany alive,” said Chaloux, who lives in Lee’s Summit. Running The Pointe isn’t the only way her family is honoring her memory. They’re also carrying out Tiffany’s plans for a dance scholarship. Her work, which abruptly ended the day after she sent out those initial emails, is coming to fruition. Sadly, the money has been raised differently than Tiffany probably ever dreamed. The news of her accident touched people, especially those in the dance community, all over the world. Thanks to donations from strangers in other ZIP codes, and supporters in the Kansas City area, Tiffany’s family has raised around $20,000 so far. The memorial scholarships, named “Dance Like Tiffany Is Watching,” will be given each spring and fall to dancers, from 7 to 21 years old, who may use it for anything from competition fees to costumes. The scholarship is open to dancers across the nation who exhibit a passion for dance, regardless of their experience. The first application deadline is March 31. “Everything we’re doing isn’t just Tiffany’s dream anymore,” Mogenson said. “It’s so much more than that now. It’s my dream. It’s her family’s dream. And it’s her students’ dream.” Their commitment and hard work to keep Tiffany’s memory intact is part of a healthy healing process, say two Overland Park psychotherapists. “When something senseless like that happens, setting up a scholarship or putting on a 5K can help give meaning to that person’s life,” said Karen Rowinsky, who runs a counseling service in Overland Park. “It helps the family put energy into doing something important during a time when they might feel helpless.” Marty Devins-Horvath, who runs MDC Serenity Counseling, agrees. “I think it’s a wonderful way to honor someone because it gives everyone around the family a way to be supportive, other than just handing off a casserole,” she said. “In the past, there have always been memorial scholarships, but now with social media, it’s easier to create one and get the word out. “It’s becoming a common way for communities to support those dealing with a tragedy.” The family’s hard work has definitely helped her dancers heal, said Welle, who has been practicing the dance solo Tiffany choreographed for the national competition in Chicago. “It has been very difficult moving on without her,” she said. “But we’re working hard and improving because we still want to make Tiffany proud.”
Mogenson’s heart still breaks every minute of every day for the love of his life. He recalls the first time he saw Tiffany. It was the summer of 2009, when the vivacious then-26-year-old blonde was the new receptionist at his law firm. Wearing a black skirt and white blouse, she turned and smiled at him. The single father knew he was a goner. In 2012, they married. Over the four and a half years they had together, the couple traveled all over the world. They picnicked in the Grand Canyon, snorkeled in the Caribbean, zip-lined through waterfalls in Mexico and whitewater rafted in Colorado. But the most precious memories took place right at home, every day. The random romantic text messages. Dinner at Johnny’s Tavern in Prairie Village, their favorite spot to eat. Hopeful plans to expand their family. Tiffany’s happiness extended beyond marital bliss and into newfound stepmother-hood. She quickly bonded with Mogenson’s son Maddox, now 11. The two often cracked jokes and pranked each other. When Tiffany and Mogenson were still dating, she even persuaded Maddox to take dance lessons for a while at The Pointe, making him one of the first male students at the studio. “Tiffany didn’t have her own children, but she loved kids,” Mogenson said. “She was really tight with Maddox. The two loved each other a lot.” Along with the memories, other thoughts swim relentlessly through Mogenson’s mind. Every minute of every hour of the day Tiffany passed away. She had watched a friend’s baby that morning. She had just stopped at the bank. She was on her way to pick up her niece who was being let out of school early. “I keep going through the chain of events in my head which led to it,” said Mogenson. “I keep thinking about how it could have been prevented and it drives me crazy. Every second counted that day. “She was only at that stoplight for about 24 seconds.” The drawn-out legal process also weighs heavily on her family’s shoulders. A preliminary hearing for Roy Maney, the Shawnee man accused of being responsible for the accident, has been continued so his new attorneys have time to prepare. Maney is charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence. To ease his unbearable pain, Mogenson often opens up Facebook and immediately goes to Tiffany’s profile. Nestled in their Florida beach wedding photos is an image of the beaming couple gazing at each other, just after being announced husband and wife. “I’m so lucky I get to spend the rest of my life with this man,” Tiffany wrote as the caption. And she did.

Scholarship for dancers

Tiffany Mogenson’s family has established a scholarship to help dancers pursue their dreams.

The first application deadline is March 31.

For more information on the fund, go to Charitysmith.org. Click “Apply for this Scholarship” to find the application form.

Information also can be found at Facebook.com/TiffanyMogensonMemorialFund.

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