By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel
One of the many things I appreciate about living here for 30 years is there are still delights and surprises.
The latest came during the last week of June when the message spread quickly that Avery Betts, 7, had passed away from a rare form of inoperable brain cancer.
She had been diagnosed with it almost two years ago, and from the outset things looked grim. Quietly and steadily friends and family supported the Betts family. It’s what we do, but in a fast-paced world of sound-bites and headlines instead of substantial news stories, no one let this tragedy slip off their radar screen.
For past few years I’ve been fire department chaplain and saw how members and families rallied to lend a hand. That’s the way rescue workers are, especially when they have great and compassionate leadership from the top down.
Most of the time their acts of care are done privately, as they want it. They serve the community and each other with a heart.
What caught me off guard was the enormity of compassion and help that came from the wider community. When we realized the funeral would be large, with one telephone call and a quick visit the high school gym and lobby were made available.
This was more than merely floor space. It meant set up, clean up and more. With more phone calls we had music, plus food promised and delivered for the reception.
Area fire and rescue services answered also, sending members and vehicles There wasn’t much talk about it; everyone understood that being there was important.
People interrupted their plans and changed calendars to make this happen. Fire and rescue services, law enforcement … all worked to make sure their district was adequately covered and to have staff and vehicles participate.
A lot of the credit goes to Erin Wilkinson for all of this. She is carrying on a tradition started by her parents, Russ and Ginger. No one is a more skilled events planner and coordinator. She will be the first to remind us she was able to do it because of support from Chief Greg Janik and other department and members.
The video tribute to Avery and her family was Erin’s handiwork. After that list was checked for the final time and the last phone call made, she went to work putting it together. Thanks again to the people at the high school, it was broadcast in the gym and lobby.
That might have been all and more than other communities could do in one week, but together we went way over the top with a two day fundraising car wash to support the Betts family with their medical bills.
The logistics and coordination of volunteers and facilities was staggering. The Commercial Record promoted it. Mike Johnson made time on his Saturday morning radio show to promote it. Friends on social media also helped spread the word.
Car after car, people came. Third Coast Church Pastor Aaron Brown and congregation members brought a trailer filled with food, drinks and more volunteers.
Stand in front of a mirror and see a reflection of someone generous and compassionate who had a part in something more important than any of us can realize. In a culture that seems increasingly fractured and divided, often angry, hurting and hurtful, you just made life better.
Together, we had a clear picture of how great life can be. That’s why we choose to live here.