Dairy Queen ambassador's first act: Let's talk about teen suicide
I am now the proud ambassador of a Dairy Queen. (Please hold your applause.)
The title was bestowed upon me recently during a private ceremony in Naperville, Ill., at a Dairy Queen tucked in a humble strip mall.
A column I wrote back in July trumpeted my love of ice cream and desire to advocate for "simple, traditional frozen-dairy delights." The owner of the Naperville Dairy Queen responded with an ambassadorship offer and I, naturally, accepted.
As silly and fun as all that was, this column now needs to take a more serious turn. That's because my first act as ambassador is to tell you the story of the Dairy Queen's owner, Karen Moloney, and the tragic event that led her to devote considerable time and energy to raising awareness of youth suicide.
Moloney had, for many of her years, worked as a waitress. In 2001, she became restless: "I started wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life."
The Dairy Queen on Wehrli Road went up for sale and Moloney saw a chance to reach for something. So she bought the business, which is nestled in a residential part of Naperville, and life got better.
"It changed everything," she said. "Knowing people in the community, seeing them come and go, feeling excited each time I opened. I felt a part of something."
One of her regulars was Jonathan Kaden, who lived nearby with his family and started coming in when he was just a kid.
In 2010, he asked Moloney for a job, and she hired him. He developed a love and skill for making Dilly Bars, and that became his nickname: Jon "Dilly Bar" Kaden.
"Everyone loved him," Moloney said. "He was friends with everyone in the neighborhood. He just sparkled. But there was also a darker side that I didn't notice until the next year. That sparkle was gone."