Diagnosed with cancer, Ben was unable to complete his carpentry program — so he sends his mom in his place.

Ben Algar was a promising young student who had been accepted into the carpentry program at Durham College.

His mom, Danita, says that he enjoyed building things. After following a trade fundamentals program in high school, which exposes students to different types of trades, Ben chose to continue with carpentry.

A Dream Deferred

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Photo by Pixabay

The family was excited for him when he started school in September, but just a month later came the devastating news that Ben had cancer. His aggressive treatments meant that he couldn’t continue school.

One of Ben’s professors came over to the house one day to tell the family that Durham College was going to defer his enrolment and that he could pick it back up again next year. “I’m praying for a miracle for you,” the professor told him, “and I want to see an Algar in the front row come Fall.”

Everyone appreciated the professor’s kindness, but they were a little surprised by Ben’s response: “I’m hoping for a miracle as well. But if it doesn’t come, I’m going to send my mom in my place.”

Tragically, Ben’s miracle never came. The following summer, he passed away.

One Life Lost, Another One Saved

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Photo by Stanley Morales

It was in the back of everyone’s minds that his dying wish had been that his mom take his place at Durham College and finish the carpentry program for him. It hung in the air — until Don Fisher, a professor at the college for over 20 years, called Danita.

“I said, ‘Ben wants you to do it,’” Fisher remembered. “Honor him and do it.” The college had saved Ben’s spot in the carpentry program and was offering it to her.

When Danita thinks back on this, she recognizes how remarkable it is that her son knew she would need a focus when she passed away.

Battling grief and with little direction, Danita was grasping at straws — and took the one held out to her by Durham College. She decided to complete the carpentry program in Ben’s honor.

“It saved my life,” said Danita, who started the program the following September. “I don’t know how things would have gone had I not been at school.”

The Rough Start One Mom Had in College

Little did she know how much she’d enjoy it. At first, it was difficult. She went from being a stay-at-home mom who had never been on a Zoom call to being a full-time student with online classes. And she was still working through her grief.

“You know, there’s days when you don’t want to get out of bed and there’s days when you are angry and hurt and upset that your child’s not doing this and you’re there carrying on,” explained Danita.

There were many days when she questioned why she was there. There were days when she angrily thought Ben should be doing this carpentry program, not her. 

But being at school also meant she had a reason to get up and get moving in the morning. She had places to be. There was comfort in the routine, and that routine saw her through many rough patches along the way.

As time went on, Danita realized that, while doing this program for Ben, she was doing it for herself as well. There was a moment when she took a step back and said, ‘Hey, I’m good at this!’ It was exciting.

How One Mom Is Spending Her Life Honoring Her Son

Danita’s professors loved her. “She would just mentor students,” said Fisher, who believes Danita was a godsend. Danita was always quick to help her classmates and she worked hard to make Ben proud. “I wanted to be in that top position and to be able to say to Ben, ‘I gave it everything I had.’”

And by the end of the carpentry program, not only did Danita walk across that stage and receive her diploma — she did so as the highest ranking student in the program.

“Knowing that Ben was looking down on her — pretty proud moment,” said Fisher with tears in his eyes.

On stage, Danita kissed her diploma and pointed up. “I did it for him,” she says. “Ben was a great kid. He was kind. He was supportive, and we really miss him.”

A newly minted graduate, Danita already knows what her first project will be. The family owns land in New Brunswick, and it had always been Ben’s dream to help his parents build their retirement home on the property.

Danita has been out to the property since Ben’s death and is clearing land to build a memorial garden for Ben. She’s also going to build a little cabin, which she says “will be Ben’s place.”

What a gift Ben gave his mom when he told the college professor that he was going to send her in his place. In doing so, he saved her life, and she will spend hers honoring him.

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