Wineka column: An ‘awesome’ graduation day arrives for Travis Casper

  • Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013 12:36 a.m.
    UPDATED: Saturday, May 11, 2013 12:45 a.m.
Travis Casper was a student pilot before he died March 26 from cancer.
Travis Casper was a student pilot before he died March 26 from cancer.

SALISBURY — Travis Casper will graduate today from Catawba College.

His whole family will be there, including his dad, Donnie; his mother, Ruthie; stepfather, John Morehead; and grandmother, Maxine Casper.


Brandon Casper, his oldest brother who is a Salisbury Police officer, will be in attendance, too. As will brother Jonathan.

Sister Caitlin Slater said Travis and Jonathan were “partners in crime” growing up. Together, they were always doing stuff such as roller-blading, skateboarding, making movies, building forts and playing basketball.

The “crime” part came when they pulled off stunts such as putting stink bombs in elevators at the beach or irritating others with their laser pointers.

They also might attach fire crackers to door knobs, scare innocent trick-or-treaters on Halloween or “prank” each other — videotaping the mischief while the victim was asleep.

But their favorite crime was teasing Caitlin.

Brandon became a hero of sorts to his younger brother. He introduced Travis to video games, which became a passion for the brothers. They seemed to own every video game console made since the 1980s and built a vast collection of games — an enviable library.

It’s fair to say Travis became an expert video-gamer.

Travis’ friends also will be at his graduation today — buddies such as Sara Frick, who knew him from the time they were in pre-school. They graduated from East Rowan High together in 2003.

Sadly, one of Travis’ best friends in school was Tyler Poole, who lost his life in a pickup accident in April 2004.

As a teen, Travis developed a love for flying. He worked at the Rowan County Airport and logged in hours as a student pilot whenever he could. He took his first solo flight on Nov. 14, 2004.

As he matured, Travis also got into body-building and nutrition, eating healthy and constantly working out.

Friends will tell you Travis loved the adrenalin rush of roller coasters and would ride The Intimidator at Carowinds 30 times in a row, if you let him.

Maybe that’s why he wanted to fly fighter jets. He first took classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, while working at various jobs, including Stoudemire Furniture.

He decided to obtain a business degree from Catawba College by attending night classes. The goal was simple: Earn a four-year degree so he could enter the Air Force as an officer and take the first step toward flying jets.

For six years, Travis attended the night classes until something out of the blue derailed everything. In July 2010, Travis was diagnosed with lymphoma.

During a beach trip over the July 4th holiday, he felt as though he were coming down with the flu. Back home, he noticed a lump in a lymph node at his neck. A needle biopsy revealed he had a stage 4 cancer.

Casper went through eight months of chemotherapy and several weeks of radiation. For two months, the cancer was in remission, but it soon returned.

Travis endured five more rounds of chemotherapy — three six-day treatments at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and two six-day hospital stays at Duke University Medical Center in Durham.

The hope was the cancer would be in remission enough so Travis could have a bone marrow transplant at Duke.

Last May, an 18-year-old man was identified in the national registry as a match for Travis. But Travis could never get well enough to go through the procedure.

Every scan showed more cancer, and additional chemotherapy and radiation weren’t helping.

Last August, the community came together at the Salisbury Elks Club to raise money for Travis’ fight, but by February of this year, Hospice was called in.

Travis Casper died March 26.

Carrying a 3.8 grade-point average, he lacked only two classes to earn his degree. Days before Travis died, he learned Catawba College had waived the need to take his remaining hours and would allow him to graduate in May.

“That’s awesome,” he said.

Today, family and friends will see Brandon Casper stroll across the stage at Keppel Auditorium to receive his brother’s diploma.

It would have been Travis’ 28th birthday.

Jets won’t fly over, but they should.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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