Peppe Larsson and Jamie Tune used to coach youth football and baseball together.
"One of the greatest memories that I'll always treasure," says Tune, 53, of Twain Harte, "is what would happen after these games. I'd see all these little kids jumping up and down and celebrating and just going crazy. And then smack dab in the middle of these celebrations would be Peppe - a 6-foot-tall, 240-pound man - jumping up and down, celebrating and going crazy along with the little kids. Those kids loved him.
"Winning and losing? That was a little piece of things. But, to Peppe,
coaching youth sports was about having fun. Peppe just wanted to make
sure those kids had a fun season so they'd want to come back and play
in the next one.
"If a kid struck out or made an error, Peppe would make sure that kid
felt OK. When leaving the park, Peppe would put his arm around that kid
and say, 'No problem, tomorrow is another day.' And Peppe wouldn't
finish his pep talk until he saw that kid was smiling."
Peppe Larsson was born July 25, 1965, in Sonora.
Tiffeni Nora was born on April 12, 1965, near San Diego. Her family moved to Twain Harte in 1975.
"I always thought Peppe was cute, nice and sweet," says Tiffeni, now
47. "We were good friends at Twain Harte Elementary School."
And they remained friends while both attended Summerville High. Tiffeni
was 5-feet tall with gorgeous hazel-greenish eyes. Peppe was a jock. He
was 5-9, 170 pounds and played defensive tackle, linebacker and running
back for the Bears.
"Peppe was a hitter," recalled close friend, teammate and classmate Don
Perkins, 47, of Tuolumne. "He did not shy away from contact. He wasn't
one of those guys that's always yapping at the mouth on the field.
Instead, Peppe made statements with his hits."
But Larsson's biggest athletic statements were made on the diamond.
"Peppe liked football a lot," says Perkins. "But his love, his passion, his favorite sport was baseball."
In 1983, his senior season, Peppe Larsson batted in the No. 3 spot for
Summerville, hit over .500, and was a human wall with a bazooka arm at
"Peppe was barrel-chested, very strong," says Perkins. "But at the same
time, he was very nimble. In the field, Peppe would make these leaping
dives on the third-base line, get up, then deliver a frozen rope over
to first base and get that runner out by more than just a couple of
"Competitive? Intense? Committed? You better believe it. Peppe Larsson
would rather have spit out every tooth in his mouth before ever letting
a ground ball go through him."
On the social front, by his junior year, Peppe was showing more than just a casual interest in Tiffeni.
"He was kind of chasing me for a while, but I ignored it," says Tiffeni
with a laugh. "Then, before our senior year, I was showing interest and
Peppe made me sweat it out for a bit. He was playing hard to get, going
out with other girls. I said to him, 'Hey, wait a minute, what about
me?' And then, without really saying anything else to each other, as
our senior year started, we just became a couple. We'd always go to
school dances together, we were always hanging out."
"You could just see how much Tiffeni and Peppe were starting to care
for each other," said Perkins. "They had the same interests and values
and they balanced each other out so well. Tiffeni was quiet,
apprehensive. Peppe was not apprehensive. Peppe was - and I mean this
in the best sense of the word - crazy. And Tiffeni was anything but
crazy. Peppe was fearless."
"Fearless? Absolutely," said Tiffeni. "Peppe and I were on someone's
boat and there was a Jet Ski. Well, Peppe had never been on a Jet Ski.
But he wanted to ride it. So, never mind asking anyone how the thing
even works, he just plops in the water, hops on it and off he went -
and he rode it like a pro the very first time."
On Aug. 31, 1985, Tiffeni and Peppe, both 20, became Mr. and Mrs.
Larsson. They moved to the Bay Area and Peppe worked in construction
and Tiffeni for a salon.
"We were both so young and we, basically, grew up together," said
Tiffeni. "But Peppe didn't really like the city life, so we moved back
after two years."
Son Korey was born in Sonora in 1989. "I had a C-section and I was
moving around the hospital very slowly," recalled Tiffeni. "And, like
every wife, you wonder: What type of father will your husband be? Well,
Peppe, right from the start, was amazing. Peppe was the youngest child
in his own family and he'd never been around babies before. So when he
picked up Korey, I had said, 'Hey! Don't drop Korey!' But Peppe was
just a natural with him.
"And after Korey was born, that settled things forever for Peppe and me
- we were home to stay. We wanted our children to have the same great
memories that we had of our high school years. I guess you could say
that it was all about the Black and Orange!"
"You talk about a true Summerville Bear and that's Peppe Larsson," said
close family friend Doug Roberson, 52, of Sonora. "Peppe took a lot of
pride in his alma mater. Without question, Peppe's kids were gonna be
Korey, class of 2007, was a 5-9, 180-pound two-year starter at strong
safety and quarterback for Summerville's football team. He was also a
four-year varsity starter in baseball, earning Second-Team All-Mother
Lode League honors his junior and senior seasons.
"As soon as I learned how to walk," said Korey, "my father was teaching
me baseball, football and basketball. I loved it all. And he was my
coach in Pop Warner and Little League."
Tiffeni and Peppe's second son, Trevor, born in March 1995, is now a
6-foot, 205-pound senior at Summerville High. He lettered in baseball
and was a 2011 First-Team All-MLL and All-Area middle linebacker on the
"Even though my dad didn't regularly spend time weightlifting," said
Trevor, "he could still bench press twice as much as his friends - and
that all came from my dad's constant work with pounding hammers and
By the time Peppe turned 25, he was a robust 6-foot-tall, 240-pounder.
In 1993, Peppe founded Larsson Construction and Electric. He'd worked
for others for 10 years but decided it was time to be his own boss.
Tiffeni kept the books.
"Peppe enjoyed the flexibility of owning his own business," said
Tiffeni. "To Peppe, the best thing about it all was that he could knock
off at 3 p.m. and go coach the kids."
"Every year, every sport, my father was coaching Korey and myself,"
recalled Trevor. "He was so much fun to play for. He'd always have a
trick play ready. He always wanted to go for it on fourth-down.
"He was tougher on me than the other kids and once in a while I'd get
mad about that. But in the long run, it made me better. In one
practice, I remember that I couldn't make a tackle. So he made me do
this drill 30 straight times until I did it right. Well, I sure didn't
miss many tackles after that."
"Sometimes it was tough having your dad as your coach," said Korey.
"But, looking back, I would not have wanted it any other way. I
respected him so much for how much time he was putting in. He expected
more out of me than my teammates and so he was a little harder on me.
But it made me a better athlete and a better person. Once in a while,
we'd have a few differences of opinion. But it all made us closer.
"Now that I'm older (23), I look back and realize how lucky I was that
he was always my coach. I knew, even back then, how much respect all of
the other kids had for my dad. They loved him and enjoyed playing for
him. He would never embarrass a player. And my mom? She could not have
been any more supportive. She never missed a game - ever."
"It can get a little tricky for a father to coach his sons," said
Tiffeni. "I remember once in a while I'd get mad at Peppe because I
thought he was a little harder on Korey than the other kids and so I'd
walk by him and give him this evil eye.
"But, overall, he was such a wonderful and awesome father to our boys.
He had this beautiful bond with both of them and that extended far past
sports. He wanted to expose his boys to everything so he'd take them
camping, snowmobiling, dirt bike riding, fishing, skiing, motorcycle
riding. He bought a boat and always took them boating.
"And, all the while, he was my best friend, too. He was wonderful,
loving, respectful and sweet to me. He was a person who put family
first. I'd say, 'Peppe, you need to get that construction job done.'
He'd say, 'Nope, we have a tournament this weekend.' The boys'
activities came before anything else. I'd stress sometimes about
business. But, honestly, I never saw Peppe worry or get flustered. As
long as his boys and I were happy - which of course we were - then
there wasn't anything to stress about.
"He believed his life was the best it could be. To Peppe, things were perfect. He was living the life he wanted."
At age 40, Peppe Larsson had a wife he loved dearly, two boys he
cherished, a successful business and was coaching youth sports. He
loved his community and, in return, that community loved him back.
In December 2005, the Tune and Larsson families came back from a cruise
in Mexico and, soon after, Peppe felt some stomach discomfort.
"As January went on, Peppe could hardly eat," said Tiffeni. "After New
Year's Eve, he had said, 'I don't feel so well.' But we had brushed
that off to having maybe a few too many hors d'oeuvres. But eventually
we went to a gastrointestinal doctor and they didn't find anything.
"Then, on February 18, Peppe came home from work, was in extreme pain
on the couch, and was throwing up. I said, 'That's it. We're going to
the emergency room right now.' "
Tests showed some enlarged organs and blockage in the small intestine. Surgery was required.
"In January," said Korey, "my dad had said, 'I don't feel so well.' And
that was the first time I'd heard him complain about anything - ever."
Post-surgery, while Peppe was still sedated, the doctor at Sonora Regional Medical Center approached Tiffeni.
"The doctor says to me, 'It's cancer and it's metastasized. I took out
where the cancer in the small intestine was but the cancer spread to
his mesentery artery and that area is inoperable.' When he told me that
I felt I was looking at someone else's life. The next day, I had to
tell Peppe and the next night I had to tell my kids.
"Then, a nurse told me, 'You take him home, call hospice - because he
can't last very long.' I said, 'You don't know him. He won't roll over.
He'll be fighting this!' "
Tiffeni was correct: Peppe Larsson put on the boxing gloves.
And, immediately, before Round 1 even began, Peppe made an unshakable
decision with regard to his bout with this disease: Cancer could not, would not, change his life.
The basic diagnosis was stomach cancer. More precisely: jejunal gastric cancer.
was only 11 and I didn't exactly know what it all meant," said Trevor.
"But when my mom told me what my dad had, I just knew that it was bad."
Korey was a junior in high school.
"I do remember," said Korey, "that I had asked my father, 'Why us?' "
Tiffeni had asked her husband the exact same question.
"Peppe," she recalled, "had responded to us, 'Why not us?
Whom else would you want to go through something like this? We've had
it perfect for so long and God is just giving us a little nudge here.'
That's when I realized I needed to get on board with Peppe's mentality.
That we were in a fight and he was not going to let cancer change our
Peppe had been Summerville High's assistant baseball coach. Cancer, Peppe decided, was not changing that.
remember saying to him," said Tiffeni, " 'You know, you could take a
year off of coaching baseball and rest up a bit.' Nope. He was
coaching, no matter what."
"My father wanted to make sure that
he continued to coach me," said Korey. "But it was important to him
that he continue to coach all the other kids on our team, too. Most of
the kids on the team were kids he'd been coaching for years. Everybody
knew his situation but he would not let it be an issue at all. He
stayed so positive. He'd still give positive speeches. He had this
saying that he'd repeat to us: 'You play better when you're having fun.
There's no reason to play if you're not having fun. So have fun.' "
remained Summerville's first base coach in 2006 and '07. It wasn't hard
to motivate the kids. What possible excuse could a kid have for not
hustling? The first base coach was shouting encouragement during these
contests while wearing a special attached pack that was blasting
chemotherapy into his body.
"Yes," said Tiffeni, "Peppe would
actually be coaching the games while he was having chemotherapy. He
refused to miss the games. He would not let cancer control him."
did things his own way," said Susan Munsell, 51, of Tuolumne, a nurse
for 21 years who currently works at SRMC. "He went through 10 cycles of
chemotherapy in our infusion center. But sometimes he'd say, 'I can't
come on Thursday because of football practice,' or 'Let's switch this
to a day where I won't be feeling lousy on a day of a football game.'
Or he'd say, 'That day is no good because my family has an activity
planned.' He would literally pick the days for his treatment that would
least inconvenience his family.
"When anyone gets the diagnosis
of cancer, it's supposed to be a life-changing experience for everyone
in the family. But Peppe did not let it change his life. He decided to
put cancer a distant second and everything else came first: Family,
football practices, family vacations, his kids' activities.
frankly, he hated sitting in that chair in the infusion center. To
Peppe, there were just too many other things he wanted to do. So we'd
move his schedule around to accommodate all the various activities he
had planned. I didn't know Peppe all that well before he was diagnosed.
But I really came to admire his strength and courage in fighting the
cancer. He was amazingly upbeat and strong."
over three years, Peppe had looked cancer in the eye and kicked it in
its butt. Peppe had still retained his weight. Family vacations went on
as planned. He continued to coach.
But, finally, by the spring of 2009, in his fourth year of battling cancer, Peppe was losing pounds.
Peppe did not lose his spirit," said Munsell. "He still remained
upbeat. He was very sick and the long-term prognosis was not what
anyone at such a young age would want. But he continued to make his own
choices on how best to move forward. He was still determined that
whatever amount of life he had left, his wife and boys would come first
- not cancer. Cancer, he decided, would never rule his life."
In April, weighing only 130 pounds, Peppe went out on a houseboat with a bunch of his high school buddies.
out on this houseboat on Melones," recalled Perkins. "Peppe was very
sick and half his normal size. But he tells us all, 'Let's go
cliff-jumping!' So Peppe leads us up the rocks. We get up in the air,
some 40 feet. That's no small jump. But, as usual, Peppe was the first
one to jump. That memory will stick with me for the rest of my life. As
sick as he was, Peppe was still showing us how to have fun. Just by his
actions, he was demanding that we have fun."
In July 2009, Peppe wanted to do something he'd never done - climb Half Dome.
in mind," said Tune, "that this is the most strenuous hike in Yosemite.
It's 17 miles total, 8 1/2 miles each way. It's a brutal hike for
anyone, let alone if you're sick. And the night before, Peppe was sick
all night. There were six of us going and we all said, 'Peppe, let's
wait for a day when you're feeling better.' But once Peppe made up his