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A celebration of life
The Sautee community plans a benefit for its brother, Marlin Geiger
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Marlin Geiger kneels with his two children, Caitlin, 7, and Christopher, 6.

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Tommy Deadwyler, arts programming coordinator for the Sautee Nacoochee Center, talks about the community.

Marlin Geiger introduced himself to the Sautee Nacoochee community as The Scarecrow.

It was 1999, and the Gainesville native said he heard of the place through friends and was always interested in living in the mountains. So, he jumped into a production of "The Wizard of Oz."

And like Dorothy following the yellow brick road, Geiger not only found a home but also an extended community of close friends who don't know the meaning of "no."

Now those friends are coming together to celebrate Geiger before cancer steals him away, not quite 10 years after he discovered the community and its welcoming arms. On April 1, Geiger was diagnosed with malignant tumors in his salivary glands, and one week later found out the cancer had metastasized into his lungs.

The cancer is so aggressive, Geiger said, it spread during the first round of chemotherapy. Doctors say he has about one month to live.

"I started the second round a couple of days ago with a different drug, hoping that would show some result," he said while preparing to take his family to Orlando, Fla., for a week of quality time. "If it does, we'll continue with that. If not, we'll switch over to radiation to give me some relief with my tongue."

Friends Tommy Deadwyler and Julianne Wilson decided to celebrate Geiger's life before he left theirs. So, they've organized a fundraiser concert May 23 at the Sautee Nacoochee Center. Performers include Grammy winner Dede Vogt, Big City Sunrise, Sweetwater Jam, Lisa Deaton and Sheri Kling. Food will be provided, along with kids' activities and a raffle. There is no price for tickets, but donations will be accepted to help Geiger's family offset the cost of the cancer treatments.

"As soon as folks heard about it, we knew we had to do something to raise money, which is important when there's a lack of insurance involved, but also just to embrace the family with love and care," said Wilson, a longtime volunteer at the Sautee Nacoochee Center.

"So often, people hear the shocking news like this ... and what ends up happening is folks come together at the time of the funeral," she added. "We wanted to find a way for folks to come together and embrace Marlin while he was still with us, and we also wanted the kids to know that when something horrible like this happens, there is the possibility in the world to be surrounded and uplifted."

Geiger and his wife, Catherine, have two children - Caitlin, 7, and Christopher, 6. The couple met in "The Wizard of Oz," the first of many shows Geiger would perform in; Catherine was the stage manager.

It's also the production where Geiger met Wilson and another Sautee resident, Jerry Grillo.

"You could tell when you met him he was going to be the scarecrow. Not 'cuz he looks like a scarecrow, but you could just tell," Grillo said. "Here was this guy who was living across the street from the Sautee Nacoochee Center ... I just remember this incredible eclectic book collection; it was obvious this was a real interesting guy. We just hit it off."

Geiger, who is formally trained as an artist, has been working as a graphic designer and Web designer for Sautee-area artists and the center itself. His parents, who live in Gainesville, are working on converting part of their basement into a studio for him, since his first love, painting, has been on the back burner while he helps raise the kids and builds Web sites.

Deadwyler, arts programming director at the Sautee Nacoochee Center, said Geiger's influence there can be traced back almost 12 years, when he helped create the center's graphics and Web site.

"He's just an amazing guy to work with, always going the extra mile to stay up late or get up real early to get something done," he said. "And Marlin was just one of those people you fall in love with instantly, because of his openness; just a very kind-hearted guy, very soft spoken."

While Grillo said friends were hoping to bring in about $20,000 to help the family, Wilson said they will be "grateful for whatever comes in." All the performers are either members of a band Marlin has worked with or individual performers he's known over the years, she said.

"There were a couple of others who would have been here but they already had previously set gigs," she said. "If everybody who wanted to perform had been available to perform, we could have started on Friday and gone through the weekend."

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