MANATEE -- Perhaps the best Levi Dakin story is the one where he and his cousin, Garrett Dakin, decide to drive an air boat from Farren Dakin Dairy about three miles east of Myakka City to the BP station in downtown Myakka City to fill the boat's gas tank.
All was good, apparently, until Levi decided to steer the boat, which of course has no wheels and is designed for running over swamps, from the grass to State Road 70 asphalt.
So there they were, the two of them, heading down S.R. 70 in an airboat, nearly flying would be more like it, with one big headlight illuminating their way.
"When we hit S.R. 70 it felt we were going four times faster," Garrett Dakin said. "I kept thinking, 'We should get back on the grass.' I tapped Levi on the shoulder and yelled, 'Levi, the asphalt is eating up the bottom of the boat.' Luckily, he decided to turn around and go back to the farm or we would have lost the boat."
The S.R. 70 airboat story was told and retold Sunday in the parking lot of Griffith-Cline Funeral Home on Manatee Avenue West after Levi
Roughly 400 filed through the funeral home to say goodbye to Levi Dakin, 34, who succumbed to inoperable brain cancer Thursday morning after a year-long fight.
A large turnout is expected for Levi Dakin's funeral at 11 a.m. Monday at Parrish United Methodist Church, 12180 U.S. 301, Parrish. "If it's anything like today, we expect 400 to 500," said Levi's sister and only sibling, Erin Drake.
A lifelong Myakka City resident, Levi Dakin was part of the large Dakin family, three brothers of which own Manatee County dairies, the last three working dairies in the county.
Levi's parents, Farren and Shelly, own Farren Dakin Dairy on S.R. 70 east of the flashing light in Myakka City and Levi helped run the farm until he got ill.
Levi's uncles, Cameron and Jerry, own Cameron Dakin Dairy on S.R. 70 in Myakka City and Dakin Dairy Farms on Betts Road in Myakka City respectively.
"He didn't bend to anyone else's expectations," Drake said of her brother. "He didn't need anyone's approval. He was just himself."
"We grew up mechanical," said cousin Jason Dakin. "We rode four-wheelers at night. We grew up in the country so we always found stuff to do."
In fact, a family photo that is held in high regard shows Levi shooting a stream of chopped grass from the silage chopper he was driving right into a truck.
"He loved to have fun," said Chano Ruiz, 34, whose family are harvesters. Ruiz grew up on Farren Dakin Dairy with Levi and Erin and accompanied the Dakins on family vacation trips. "It was a blast being with him," Ruiz added.
Jason Dakin said he was inspired by how his cousin handled his illness. "He fought strong and never gave up," Jason Dakin said. "He didn't sit in the house and hide. He didn't let it stop him."
Levi Dakin loved bird hunting, preserving the Dakin dairy tradition, singing George Strait songs on a karaoke machine and hanging out with family, Jason Dakin said.
He loved his wife, Stacey, and his children, Leah, 9, Levi Jr., 4, and Rylee, who was born six months ago, Drake said.
"He cried when they diagnosed him, but after that I never saw him break down," Drake said. "He had faith in God. The last time I was with him I told him I loved him and would see him later."
In February, the Drakes put on a benefit ranch rodeo for Levi, who had insurance but had to travel to Duke University once a month for treatment. The rodeo raised more than $50,000, Drake said. "People reached deep into their pockets to help Levi and we want to thank them," Drake said.