During her first year at Bethel Park High School, Samantha Guthoerl learned that her father had broken his arm.
She then learned that while Michael Guthoerl was undergoing examination for the break, he received the unexpected diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer.
“Pretty much all through the rest of freshman year, it was my sister, my mom and I just kind of taking care of him,” Samantha said, referring to sibling Danielle and mother Barbara. “My sister would take him to chemo one day. I would take him a different day. Then my mom would take him.”
He passed away in mid-2018, about a year and a half after the diagnosis.
“When they originally found it, he was going to get three months, maybe four, if he didn’t do anything,” Samantha recalled. “But then my mom said, ‘no. We’re doing something.’”
Even with treatments gaining her what turned out to be extra time with her father, his illness and death weighed heavily on her during what, even under normal circumstances, can be a trying time in life.
In recognition of Samantha’s resilience, she has been honored with the 2020 Angel F. Miranda Award, presented each year to a Bethel Park High School student who demonstrates such attributes as self-determination, overcoming obstacles and performing service. The award was established in memory of a student who attended Pathfinder School and graduated from Bethel Park in 2007.
For Samantha, her challenges were exacerbated by another family tragedy: Uncle John Leske, with whom she was particularly close, received word that he had gallbladder cancer and died shortly after, less than a year after her father succumbed and just 10 days before her 18th birthday.
Fortunately, Samantha, from an early age, developed the coping skill of not dwelling on negatives. She described her thought process:
“Let’s just get through freshman year. All right, got through freshman year. Then let’s just get through junior year, just kind of keep going.
“I knew that if I would ever stop, I would stay there,” she explained. “And I knew with both of them, my dad and my uncle, that they wouldn’t want that.”
A 2020 Bethel Park High School graduate, Samantha was a member of the rifle team and of the Bethettes, the drill team that carries on a six-decade tradition at the school.
She also worked with 3- and 4-year-olds in the high school’s preschool, carrying on a personal tradition: Samantha and Danielle volunteered to teach youngsters during a craft camp at the since-closed Pat Catan’s.
During high school, Samantha received an email from guidance counselor and facilitator Michael Bruce, calling attention to an opportunity to serve as a cancer support volunteer.
“I thought it might be a good idea to try, because it could help me along with helping other people,” she said.
Whenever possible, Samantha helped provide the proverbial best medicine.
“You had some families where you would sit there and you would laugh the entire time,” she recalled. “Other times, it was a little rough.”
While she and other members of just about every Class of 2020 faced rough circumstances because of COVID-19, Samantha looks forward to starting as scheduled in August at Slippery Rock University, where she is majoring in criminal justice with an impressive, in most folks’ opinions, minor in physics.
“I took about every other science class that I could. So why not?” she said about her decision to enroll in high school physics.
Samantha credits teacher Clyde Qualk with her knowledge of a subject that confounds many a student.
“I don’t know how that man taught us physics, but I know way too much about physics now,” she joked.
Both her major and minor should prove beneficial to her plans of attending graduate school with a focus on forensics as a career.
The impetus for following that path, she said, came from watching crime-solving shows on television, especially “NCIS” and Pauley Perrette as the series’ charmingly offbeat forensic scientist Abby Sciuto. Samantha recalled thinking: I want to do that!
With the resolve she has demonstrated to this point, the safe bet is that she one day will be doing what Abby does, except in real life.