University of Wisconsin Stevens Point sophomores Hector Acuna and Paige Meseck pose with a watercolor portrait Acuna did of Finn and Evie Ringdroski. Meseck met the Ringdroskis at Brain Tumor Family Camp last summer and suggested Acuna paint their portrait as part an art project he was doing.
Two University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) alumni whose 2-year-old son has spent half his life battling a brain tumor recently received an unexpected gift from a UWSP sophomore they have never met.
Hector Acuna, a UWSP sophomore majoring in art, decided earlier this month to ask his friends and family for stories to inspire a series of paintings.
“At first my idea was I was going to take a story that someone else had and I was going to have that influence a piece of artwork that I was going to do,” said Acuna.
A few stories started to trickle in. After a week he got a message from Paige Meseck, another UWSP sophomore he has known since his freshman year.
Acuna knew Meseck’s brother, Alex, had survived having cancerous brain tumors, but that wasn’t the story she wanted to share with him. She wanted to tell him about the Ringdroskis, a family she met over the summer at Children’s Oncology Services’ Brain Tumor Family Camp, a camp she and her brother had originally attended as campers but now attended as counselors.
“We just met the family and we loved them,” said Meseck of the Ringdroskis.
Mike Ring and Nicky Mondroski first met as undergrads at UWSP. Both graduated with degrees in environmental education in 2002. They worked together after graduating, fell in love and got married. Nicky gave birth to their twins, Evelyn “Evie” and Finnigan “Finn” Ringdroski, in 2010. The parents gave their children a combination of their last names as a last name.
In 2011, when Finn wasn’t meeting some of his developmental goals, the couple took him to the doctor, who discovered Finn had a racquetball-sized brain tumor. Several surgeries later, Finn and his family found themselves at the brain tumor camp on Lake Geneva, where they’d been paired with the Meseck family for support and to help them navigate camp.
Paige Meseck discovered the UWSP connection right away. “They met in Stevens Point, the parents did, and she lived in 327 Watson,” she said, noting it is the same residence hall, floor and wing where she lives now. “So we started talking about that.”
“We met Paige and her whole family at camp,” said Ring, who said the relationships they formed there continued to be meaningful after the camp ended. “It was one of the highlights of our summer.”
It was the strength and hopefulness of the Ringdroski family that Paige connected with.
“I really admire families that go through things like this, because that’s the true test of family. If you can get through the hardest time when the kids are so young, then you know that you can make it through anything.”
The Ringdroskis have written about many of their experiences, including Finn’s many surgeries, on the website fansoffinn.org. “We’re extremely open about all of Finn’s trials and tribulations,” said Ring. “If we share as much as we can then we can help as much as we can.”
Ring said Finn’s condition currently is not good. He is asleep for about 23 hours of the day. They put him into hospice care about two weeks ago.
“It’s hard,” said Ring.
Meseck knew that Finn wasn’t doing well when she saw Acuna’s call for stories on Facebook.
“I didn’t know if I should share somebody else’s story, but I remembered what it’s like and so many people know your story, that the more that know it, the more prayers, the more that it can help,” she said.
“I was blown away by the story,” said Acuna, who started to work transforming a photograph of Finn and Evie into a watercolor portrait.
He captured the process on video and edited it together with text explaining Finn’s story. “With this video I guess it was just more helping tell (Finn’s) story and let people know what was going on in his life,” he said.
Acuna was nervous about putting the video online. “The part I was really nervous about was since I don’t know them personally that they’d be upset that someone they didn’t know was doing a painting of their kids,” he said. He hadn’t told Meseck he had taken her suggestion.
“All of the sudden he said, ‘I have a video made, do you think I can post it?’” she said.
“We were speechless. We thought it was just amazing,” said Ring. “It’ll leave a lasting legacy for Finn and a lasting memory for Evie.”
Paige plans to deliver the finished painting to the Ringdroski’s over her winter break.
For more information about Finn and the Ringdroskis visit fansoffinn.org. For more information on Acuna and his painting project, visit artbyacuna.com. A link to Acuna’s video is available on either site.