Life and DreamsMemories9112001Memorial FundLinks


We invite you to share a memory of Mari-Rae and help all of us learn a little more about our daughter, sister and friend. We plan to archive these remembrances for the family.

Share your memory by sending an email to Mari-Rae’s parents.

Scroll down to view memories shared.

View memories shared



Deanna Nino - New York 9-21-04
Mari-Rae was one of my friends in law school. I have such wonderful memories of Mari-Rae as she always brightened every room she stepped into. She will always remain in our hearts. My sincerest condolences to her family.

Gina Pongetti - Chicago, IL 9-11-04
It is amazing that it has been 3 years, we sure do miss you. Every day we coach, every day we teach a child, we think of you. Your spirit drives me to be a better mentor for kids, and a better coach to them, not just for gymnastics, but for life. I pray for you today, and always.

Love, Gina

Shaun Hoffmeyer 9-8-04
I am deeply saddened. I knew Mari-Rae and Tammy as friends from gymnastics camp. My memories are fond.

I trained at Camp Tsukara over my high school summers and was a counselor in cabin Tokyo in 1981, after graduating from Glenbrook South high school in Glenview, Illinois. My club gym was the American Academy of Gymnastics, (then) located in Des Planes, Illinois. Dianne Kelley coached girls gymnastics at Glenbrook South then.

I went to Stanford in 1981 as a student-athlete and continued teaching gymnastics over the summers and after college. I served in the Navy in the 1990's on the USS Abraham Lincoln CVN 72 and after coached at Stanford Gymnastics Club with my college coach, Sadao Hamada.

I remember Mari-Rae as full of life and love, joy and kindness. I remember her pure heart and vibrant personality. I remember her love of life and people. I remember her friendship and compassion, as heaven on earth.

I remember her zeal for gymnastics and genuine love of the sport. I remember her tenderness and romantic grace. I remember her determination, diligence, and talent. I remember her good-natured concern for others. I remember her honesty and humility.

I am honored to have been touched by her. I am honored to see her many accomplishments.

May your life and memory be forever blessed.

Thank you, Mari-Rae.


Shaun Hoffmeyer

Joann Morris - New Orleans 8-19-04
I found this web-site looking for Lake Owen Lodge and Camp Tsukara on the web. I attended Camp Tsukara with my sister for two months every summer as a child. It is at Camp Tsukara where I met Mari-Rae and her sister, Tammy. Some of my best childhood memories are from Camp Tsukara and the Soppers are part of them. I heard on the radio Mari-Rae's name as one of those from 911. I was deeply saddened. I prayed for Mari-Rae and her family that day. I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to all of you and will continue to keep you in my prayers. God bless.

Joan Swanson - Ohio 8-18-04
My sister and I use to take turns babysitting for Mari-Rae and her brothers and sisters when they lived in our Inverness neighborhood growing up. As I watch these 2004 Summer Olympics, I am constantly reminded of how Mari-Rae and Tammy would practice their gymnastics while diving into our neighborhood pool. They were very impressive, even back then. I only knew her as a child, but think about her often.

Ingrid Henderlight - Palatine, Illinois 8-4-04
I went to grade school and high school with Mari-Rae. Our 20-year reunion is this weekend, and I am sad she will not be there. Although I was not a close friend in high school, I remember Mari-Rae as a vibrant, determined and loving person. I pray that God will continue to heal your hearts as you mourn her loss.

Emily - UCSB 4-24-04
We still miss you!

Julie Morris - Houston, TX 3-28-04
Mari-Rae and I were friends at Camp Tsukara in Cable, Wisc. I saw her summer after summer and just by accident, today I found this site. I am so sorry for the loss. She was a good person, a great athlete, and I have fond memories. My love to the family, especially Tammy, as I know/knew her too.


Katie Brendre - Germany 12-20-03
A very sad story!

I also went to Fremd High school, Illinois for a short time and I think I saw her picture. I'm very sorry for the family!

Christel Goins Brady - Pasadena, CA 12-13-03

We were teammates on the William Fremd H.S. gymnastics team and I remember her tremendous passion! I am so proud to learn of the life she went on to live after high school. My sympathies to the Sopper-Kminek family.

Andrea McGary 4-24-03

My name is Andrea McGary and I am a gymnast at Temple University. This past weekend my team and I competed at the USA Collegiate National Championships in Texas. I am a senior and the team captain. During the individual finals special awards this year, I was the proud recipient of the Mari-Rae Spirit Award.

The award it self is a complete honor and the best award that I have ever received. What many did not know however is that this award is very special to my heart. I attended club gymnastics at Colorado Gymnastics Institute in Aurora, CO, where Mari-Rae was my first choreographer. In fact she did my first two optional routines that I ever completed.

I just wanted you to know that this is truly one of the largest honors that I have ever received. To be considered having a heart for the sport as large as Mari-Rae had helps me to truly believe that hard work and dedication certainly pay off. I was honored to receive this award and I wanted you to know just how much it meant to me, and how much Mari-Rae impacted my gymnastics at an early age. God bless.

Andrea McGary

Conn Flanigan 9-11-02
Memories of law school

Mari-Rae and I were just acquaintances, but I wanted to relate one of my strongest memories of her. I was a fellow student at the University of Denver Law School. In fact, we were in the same section in our first years, which meant that we given the identical course schedule for all the required first year courses. By coincidence, I sat behind her on the first day of school. An unwritten “seating chart” was created because students tended to sit in the same seats for every class. For the entire year! This gave me a unique perspective on the unbelievable thing that Mai-Rae would do: She was always raising her hand in class to answer the question.

Now understand, offering an answer in law school is a lot different than offering an answer in high school or college. Your answer is never the end of the discussion. Your answer is usually the start of a seemingly never-ending inquisition to exhaust your knowledge. Called the Socratic method of teaching, the law professor will often ask you follow up questions that you didn’t anticipate, and can often lead to topics and answers that you never intended, and sometime moments of embarrassment and silence. Prepared students usually waited for the day the professor called on them. Unprepared students (God bless them for their responses provided the only humor in these classes) hid behind books and other students. Not Mari-Rae.

Sometimes, the professor, upon scouring the other side of the classroom for students to needle and embarass, would defeatedly come back to Mari-Rae, who would be waving her hand.

Offering an answer put yourself on the spot in front of your professor and your peers. She seemed to do this on a daily basis. Obviously the professors were not trying to embarrass students, but to teach us how to think on our feet. I didn’t keep in touch with Mari-Rae after graduation, but I am sure that the ability to think on her feet helped her and especially her clients.

God Bless.

Conn Flanigan

Mike Tempelman 9-11-02
Prayers for the Family

I didn’t know Mari-Rae directly although being a participant of sports at Fremd High School I often remember my basketball practices and seeing Mari-Rae and her teammates practicing their routines in the gym “on the shelf”.

My thoughts and prayers go to the Sopper family and my former classmate Tammy. With my deepest sympathy I wish you all the strength and encouragement to find your way through these difficult times.

I will never forget. I will always remember. Too much lost but together “I” becomes “we” and WE will not falter.

Patty Grace 3-10-02
An inspiration

My name is Patty Grace and I was in the same year at Fremd High School with Mari-Rae. I was captain of the volleyball team and I would see Mari-Rae every day at practice. Though we were only acquaintances, I remember her very well and admired her great achievements at her time at Fremd. As I read about her live after Fremd, she obviously continued to do accomplish great things. I was truly shocked and saddened when I read her name. Out of all those people I would see everyday at Fremd, Mari-Rae was someone that I will always remember. I pulled out my yearbook, with her pictures plastered all over it and cried. My heart goes out to you, the family for your enormous loss. There are no words, God Bless.

Deb (Bryant) Janssen 12-6-01
Thanks M-R

I met Mari-Rae at Tsukara gymnastics camp when I was a junior in high school. I thought she was the most beautiful dancer I had ever seen. I worked out with her during those few weeks and her determination was unending. She motivated me to strive for the best I could be. I continued to watch her at Iowa State and was still amazed at her beauty.

When I entered ISU at the begining of second semester in 1987, I was terrified. How would this team react to this kid coming in after several months had gone by? Well, it was Mari-Rae and her friend Kathy who made me feel like part of the team. M-R and I went on to become dear friends. I will always thank my "lucky stars" for allowing me to be a part of her life.

Thanks Mari-Rae!
I love and Miss you!

Paul Columbo 10-1-01
Miss you!

My name is Paul Columbo, and I am the assistant coach at the University of Florida. Marie Rae and I had just met this past April at the NCAA nationals in Georgia. Mike Jacki introduced her to me and we talked all night about why she would leave such a lucrative job as a lawyer to become a coach, and her answer was always "because that's what I want to do." That night I introduced her to several of my coaching friends from various schools around the country, and she asked each and every one if they were looking for a coach, and offered her card. I could not believe how passionate she was about getting a coaching job.

We kept in touch through weekly phone calls and I tried to help her in any way that I could, a phone number here or a "rumor" there, and during this time I found her to be intriuging, and full of life (almost to the point of annoyance!), but I would give anything to have her give me a call now and tell me that she is doing great in California, and that it was the right decision. You will be remembered and missed by the entire college coaching community. Goodbye my friend.

Jennifer Rankin 9-18-01
Reflections of Mari-Rae

I met Mari-Rae in Seattle while she was visiting Joe Edgell. I had just finished grad school and was on a cross-country trek that would eventually take me to DC. I was in Seattle visiting a friend of mine at the same time Mari-Rae was there and after dinner together with a big group of people we sat and waited while Joe and my friend were attending their weekly swing dance class together. I was there for an extended stay so really had no choice about whether I would go and sit through this class- I was impressed that someone who was there for a shorter trip would make the same sacrifice. While we sat there together on the side, she talked and talked and talked, but the most important thing she said was that when I got to DC I should look her up.

I am so grateful that I did. Not only was she an instant friend in a city where I knew practically nobody, but my stay in DC was rough and she made it so much better- she was definitely a bright spot in an otherwise dreary six-month stay in DC. She seemingly went out of her way to make me feel at home there. Every party that she was invited to, she asked me to come along; she made sure that I was not alone on any holiday that I stayed in town. She always invited me out to dinner or to go watch a movie. She introduced me to her friends, one of whom is one of my best friends today. She opened her house to me and showed me her hospitality without ever hesitating. She even attended the viewing party for the University of Texas- Iowa State football game with me and took on a bar full of UT fans chin first. She was bold and never doubted herself, her opinions or her right to share those opinions with whomever would listen.

I don't think that there is anything else I can share with you that you didn't already know or that someone else hasn't already mentioned. I met Mari-Rae while I was on a long road trip and felt that it was only fitting that I say good-bye to her by driving to her memorial service this weekend. I am thankful not only that Mari-Rae was a part of my life but that I got to hear so many wonderful things about her. I can only hope, and now begin to make sure, that I touch so many people in such a positive way.

Jennifer Rankin

Stephanie Riska Pearson 9-18-01
Reflections of Mari-Rae

Mari-Rae was one of my first friends when I moved to Dallas in 1992. We both worked for a start-up marketing company that catered to the performing arts in the DFW area. Althoughour jobs there lasted only a few months (Mari-Rae had us all convinced that the owner was a crook - which we later found out she was right and the company went under), our friendship lasted far beyond that. One of my favorite memories of her was a Halloween party that we attended with another friend, Beth Geisler. We dressed up as the Three Blind Mice and one can only imagine how well Mari Rae acted the part. She never did anything halfway. :)

After Mari-Rae left Dallas, she was always so good about keeping touch and made every effort to get together whenever she passed through Dallas.Sometimes she would only have a 45 minute layover and she would still try to see if we could meet for lunch or dinner. Once I flew through Denver on my way to Crested Butte and she went out of her way to meet me for my 30 minute layover.Because we had to board theplaneearly, our visit only lastedlong enough tosay Hi andhave a quick drink. I felt terrible that she went out of her way for such a short visit and she was just happy that we were able to see each other. Needless to say, she was always a very dedicated and loyal and true friend.

Two weeks ago we weretalkingabout how soonshe could get back to Texas to visit Sheila Parodi in Austin and then come to Dallas to meet my new daughter, Sophie,after she got settled in Santa Barbara.That conversation lead into all of the other people she wanted to see and things she needed to do.Mari Rae always managed to have afull scheduleand I was constantly amazed at how she never ceased to put all of her energy into everything she did,work or play.

Mari-Rae, your zest for life has greatly impacted everyone around you. You have a set a great example for how we should live our lives and love ourfamilies and friends. I love you and will miss you dearly.

Sandy 9-17-01
Mari-Rae - Reflections

Where do you begin when you describe Mari-Rae? I have never been able to think of her without laughing to myself about something crazy she said or did. Mari-Rae was unique, and beautiful and talented. She had a rare way of looking at the world - she was trusting, non-judgmental and full of ideas. But for all of the talent and skill she possessed - and for all of the unbelievable achievements she had - it is the moments when she was just being "Mari-Rae" that I remember the best.

I have known Mari-Rae since 1993, when she started law school at DU. I graduated 6 months before her and got a head start in the Navy JAG Corps. We were both in Newport at different Navy schools and then we were both assigned to Washington, DC. In all the years I have known her, I can't remember showing up to a sushi restaurant to meet her when she didn't already have a bowl of rice in her hand. "I'm starving," she'd always say (as though this was a special occasion). Mari-Rae, with all of her spontaneity, was actually quite predictable.

For all of you who have now hear about her quest to have the Navy "hem" raised a little bit to better flatter her calves - I remember her coming to me in her first week at Officer Indoctrination School ('knife and fork' school for lawyers) when she swore she couldn't wear "that hem" and figured that if she just explained it to her commanding officer - who would be a reasonable person - she could get it shortened a bit. Although she was overt in her approach to"Operation Raise Hem" - she was convinced that no one ever noticed her 6-inch long, 2-inch wide, bigger than Mari-Rae, hair clip, while the rest of us suffered through with the Navy-approved Goody barrette and bobby pin ensemble. Mar-Rae may be the only female officer in history to actually determine her own uniform. For those of you who asked the question, "is the Navy ready for Mari-Rae?", I can answer. The Navy probably never had a more dedicated, passionate, intelligent, lawyer.Mari-Rae made the Navy a better place. Shebrought honor, integrity and courage to every case sheever had, and she foughthard for every client she represented.

I got to spend Mari-Rae's last weekend with her, and I am very lucky to havehad that time with her. Kathleen Kelly and I were in town for a wedding and bachelorette party for our good friend Theresa Adams, also from DU law.Mari-Rae danced to "IWill Survive" and "Theresa's Got a Big Ol Butt, OhYeah" (in honor of the lovely bride) and she laughed and smiled a lot. She could barely contain her excitement about her new job - and she was on top of the world. On Sunday, Dave Hodgkinson (my fiance, and another good friend of Mari Rae's) and I went over to help her pack up her apartment. It was a classic "Mari-Rae" day. She left me three messages in a two hour period, each one lasting about 3 minutes and detailing her day as it unraveled. We arrived, on time, ready to pack her out for the movers arriving the next morning, and discovered she had no packing materials. She was out of boxes, had a quarter of a roll of scotch tape, and nothing to wrap her wares in. Dave and I did the best we could to wrap all of her pictures and valuables in towels, sheets, and blankets, until her sister Tia came to the rescue with a bunch of boxes. We all went out and celebrated her farewell for California at Lauriol Plaza. She moved the time up for her party from 7:00 to 6:00, because I had a flight out later that evening from BWI to Newport. That is the kind of friend Mari-Rae was. She would rearrange her own party to fit the time schedule of her out-of-town friend.

I haven't been able to put words to paper until now, and these are only but a fraction of what I could say about Mari-Rae. But I listened to all of the eulogies written for her at Fremd High School, and I've read all of your reflections in these e-mails, and I can see that none of you need me to tell you about who Mari-Rae was and what kind of a person she was. We all know that - and I can see she has touched all of your lives like she touched mine. I love her dearly, I miss her, and she will be a part of all of us for a long time to come.

Mari-Rae's friend, Sandy

Jennifer & Kurt Eichenmuller 9-15-01
Reflections on Mari Rae from her Navy pal and friend for life Jen

I first met Mari Rae in 1997, when she left the Naval Legal Service Office Central and came to work as an Appellate Defense Counsel at the Washington Navy Yard. I was the training officer there, and she was assigned as my "trainee" and not surprisingly, we became fast friends. We were among only a few women in the office -and it was a trying job for me-- and Mari Rae was just so kind and supportive -- it was always a safe harbor for me to go in her office and vent and vice versa. She made me smile no matter how bad my day, or life, was going at the time, and no matter how busy she was. We shared a lot of laughter and tears and trials and tribulations in those small spaces in Building 111 on the Washington Navy Yard.

Appellate Defense was a good assignment for officers who were somewhat irreverent because you needed to be able to question authority intelligently in order to do the job well. Even so, being prone to following orders, many of us could sometimes fall into the trap of accepting the status quo -- but not Mari Rae. She constantly challenged her colleagues to think outside the box and was a breath of fresh air in every respect. We could always count on Mari Rae to give her honest opinion, and never never just go along with the crowd. And we could always tell when Mari Rae was at the lunch table --clear from the other side of our office spaces -- because inevitably, a lively debate would be going on. I can just see her now, getting upset with one of the guys who'd be yanking her chain, one hand in a fist banging on the table, in her other hand, a veggie patty on a bun -- her big eyes getting bigger and her face getting red.

Some people thought Mari Rae just wasn't cut out for the military because truth be told, she really wasn't very good at being a follower, although she really did try. Many more people thought Mari Rae was exactly the kind of officer the military needs. Either way, to be certain, she was one of the most irrepressibly independent thinkers many of us who worked with her at Appellate Defense had ever encountered. Not surprisingly, she quickly became an exceptional appellate lawyer. She fought for justice for each and every service member she represented and always gave her clients the benefit of the doubt. She was as smart and tenacious an advocate as any lawyer could hope to be --and better still, a loyal and dedicated friend too. She was all team spirit and wished only the best for her colleagues.

One of the most beautiful things about Mari Rae is that she did more than just think well, and get upset when she saw injustice -- she acted on so many of her convictions. A staunch advocate for women and children's rights, while at Appellate Defense she was a dedicated mentor to a child at risk from a very poor middle school district in Alexandria, Virginia. We had an incredibly large caseload there, and there was no "free" time to spare--but Mari Rae took a couple hours a week anyway to go see this kid, even though it meant working later or over the weekend. Just last fall, as those of us on her e-mail mailing list know, Mari Rae rallied as many people as she could to go with her to campaign in the "swing state" of Pennsylvania, and the very close presidential race there was won by the Democratic Party which she so strongly supported. It would be hard to find anyone more deeply patriotic than Mari Rae. The strength of her conviction that the individual could make a difference in our democratic government made me feel more optimistic about our government too. The strength of her conviction made me believe that activism and ideals really were not just meant to be the stuff of youth.

The last time I saw Mari Rae was this May in my kitchen in Silver Spring, Maryland. I had her over for a Sunday dinner. I was trying out a recipe for an Italian seafood stew on her because I knew she loved fish. I promised to work on the recipe if she'd promise to come see me and my family after I was stationed in Sicily at the end of June. Mari Rae was among my family's small circle of friends who seriously would have made this trek to see us. It is unbelievable to us that she is gone. When I last spoke to her it was over the telephone, also in May, and she was giving me advice on how to get the best price selling my house --and she offered to babysit. There she was--a single woman willing to watch my toddler on a weekend night -- because she loved my daughter Madeline -- and because she was just that generous of a friend. But her sister was coming in town so I told her not to be silly. Now I wish I had taken her up on her offer so I would have at least seen her one more time.

I am so proud to have known Mari Rae for so many many reasons. I know I can speak for all the Navy and Marine Corps officers she worked with at Appellate Defense that we are all much richer for having served with her and that we will all miss her dearly.

Mari Rae, we love you, we will never forget you, and we will see you in heaven. Jennifer & Kurt Eichenmuller, kisses and hugs from Madeline Dolly

Deb (Diskerud) Hatanpa 9-14-01
My memories of Mari-Rae...

I was a senior at Iowa State when Mari-Rae arrived on the scene as a freshman. What a little dynamo! She had the steely determination of someone way beyond her years. As an upper classman, I should have been the one setting an example for her, but it was the other way around...

Mari-Rae's dedication and encouragement were part of the reason I started putting harder tricks into my routines during my last competitive season. Finally, as a senior, I started taking a few risks after several years of "coasting" through routines that I could do in my sleep. (Mari-Rae had no respect for just "coasting" through anything!) She was never afraid to aim high. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Thank you, Mari-Rae, for inspiring me to push myself outside my own comfort zone, and experience more growth as an athlete than I had in years.

Our friendship was rekindled two years ago when Cyclone gymnastics alumni gathered in Ames for a reunion. It had been years since we had seen each other, but I immediately felt as though no time had passed. Her hair was much longer, her face was more mature...but her boundless energy and huge smile were the same! We had a wonderful time, talking and laughing so much we were all hoarse by the end of the weekend. Ever since, I have continued to be entertained by humorous emails, cards and phone calls from Mari-Rae...especially when she would report George Stephanopolous sightings at a local coffee shop! (At one time, it was our devious plan that Mari-Rae should "accidentally" spill her coffee on him and see where that might lead!!!) Thank you, Mari-Rae, for making an effort to keep in touch and for brightening my days, and for being my friend.

I am grateful for the opportunity of knowing Mari-Rae. You will never be forgotten, M-R!

Deb (Diskerud) Hatanpa

Laurie Fischer Castillo 9-14-01
Reflections of Mari Rae

I went to high school with Mari Rae and while many friendships end at this time Mari Rae was committed to keeping in touch with as many people as possible. I could always count on hearing from Mari Rae many times a year. We loved catching up and swapping stories about friends from high school. Mari Rae had an incredible memory. I was always amazed at her ability to recant an event from years ago. She was such a bright, enthusiastic person who cherished her relationships. We both moved all over the country. I ended up in Dallas where Mari Rae eventually moved. We would have lunch together and discuss our plans for the future. The one thing that struck me about Mari Rae was her love for gymnastics. As we all know, this was a lifelong focus. She was a very passionate person about many things- family, politics, current events, friends, and of course gymnastics. I am grateful Mari Rae's dream to become a college coach came true in the last moments of her life. I am also grateful Mari Rae reached out and remained my friend for so many years. I will miss getting my almost weekly emails from Mari Rae and of course I will miss her unwavering spirit for life.

I miss you...

Your friend,

Laurie Fischer Castillo


Life & Dreams | Memories | 9112001 | Memorial Fund | Links

Contact Us: Mari-Rae’s parents