Man, 33, aims for ‘last stand’ on Isle Royale

Justin Marietti
The Mining Journal (Marquette)

Marquette – — In his 33 years of life, Nate Denofre has been many things: student, machinist, fishing and bow-hunting guide, father and much more. But there is one attribute of his life that stands out above all the rest — he has always been a fighter, and a humble one at that.

Denofre was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which left him without legs below the knee. He said that very early on in his life, he was told he may never be able to walk — but he did.

Denofre became even stronger as a result of his condition — learning to run, swim and get around just as well as some of his other classmates. However, years of wear and tear on his body and multiple surgeries have left Denofre with congenital spine narrowing in his back, which eventually will leave him with limited mobility.

“I found out there’s maybe about a 30 percent chance at best they’ll be able to fix it, and it’s major surgery, so I decided against it,” he said.

“I’m just tired of it, to be honest.”

Ever since he was a boy, Denofre has carried a great affinity for the outdoors, and for the past five years he’s run the Yellow Dog Survival School as a fishing and bow-hunting guide. When he found out about his current condition, he wanted to have one more great excursion in the woods before all was said and done.

Denofre, a Negaunee Township resident and Ishpeming High School graduate, decided on Isle Royale as the setting for his “last stand,” because it was one of the only sections of the Upper Peninsula he hasn’t had the opportunity to explore.

“I figured, one more last thing,” he said. “I want to do something to set my soul at ease. It’s not, and I’m not ready to sit down, to say the least. I said, Custer had his last stand — I should have mine, too, you know?”

When Erik Conradson, one of Denofre’s childhood friends, became aware of his condition, he created “Nate’s Last Stand,” a fundraising effort to cover the expenses needed to send Denofre to Isle Royale this spring.

“For as long as I’ve known (Nate), he has prided himself on working hard for what he has,” Conradson said. “He never depended on charity from other people and he has never sought out sympathy. When I learned that Nate has a very limited amount of time left before his body will prevent him from living the way he wants to live, my heart sank.”

Before he loses the ability to move freely, “I thought it would be great to help give him a great experience to remember forever,” he said.

Conradson received help with the fundraiser from Jamie Maki, another one of Denofre’s childhood friends.

When Denofre found out about the fundraising effort, he said he was at a loss for words.

“I was choked up, I was stunned, and that’s pretty hard to do,” he said. “They did a hell of a good job, and it was amazing. How can I put it; (have) you ever seen ‘The Grinch that Stole Christmas,’ at the very end, he’s on the mountain and his heart gets bigger? That’s pretty much what happened to me. I couldn’t believe what people were saying on the website. I cleaned my glasses that day. It’s the best gift in the world.”