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Latrobe woman cherished family, teaching

| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 6:56 a.m.

The one thing more important to the late Melissa L. Derk than being a top-notch teacher was honoring her brother, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Drew A. Derk, of Latrobe, as he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I'd say her brother was definitely No. 1 in her life and teaching was No. 2," said Denise E. Vesco Derk, of Latrobe, of her only daughter on Monday.

Melissa, 23, died Thursday from complications during surgery to remove a pituitary tumor in her brain at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

Lance Cpl. Derk, 20, was flown home from Iraq Saturday after hearing of his sister's death. He had served since February with Marine Corps Company 2033 near Baghdad.

Denise said Drew was not aware Melissa had any health problems.

"(Melissa) decided it would be best that Drew not know; she was afraid he would be distracted and therefore be in greater danger," Denise said. "She was just so thoroughly proud of him for serving his country, but she was also very worried about him."

Throughout Drew's tour, Melissa spent much of her time fund-raising to send care packages to him and many others in his battalion, Denise said.

Drew declined a request for comment yesterday from the Tribune-Review.

A 1999 graduate of Greater Latrobe Senior High School and 2003 graduate of Slippery Rock University with a degree in elementary education, Melissa was a substitute teacher for the Greater Latrobe Area, Hempfield Area, Derry Area and Ligonier school districts.

According to Denise, her daughter was born to teach the young.

"All she wanted was her own classroom," Denise said. "She just had that knack where kids would see her and be drawn to her."

And early on, Melissa made it clear she wanted to stand out in the field.

"She really wanted to be outstanding; she wanted people to know that she was a teacher that really tried to make a difference with her kids," Denise said. "She would have gotten through one way or another. She would have kept trying."

Denise said she'll always remember the early mornings she and her daughter shared together.

"She always made me coffee in the morning and we'd talk before I went to work," Denise said.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the John J. Lopatich Funeral Home Inc., Latrobe.

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