In the face of sorrow, we stand together

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This past week has provided a vivid reminder why living in a small community is so great. When someone — anyone — needs help or support, our friends and neighbors rush to provide whatever is needed.

When Maddie Fessant died Sunday, many of our local teenagers were inconsolable and looking for help and answers. Because school was out for the summer, they were unable to gather together except in their peer groups for support. Thanks to Paris High School guidance counselor Staci Skelton and several teachers, those teens as well as community members and family members gathered on the track at the PHS football stadium to honor their lost friend and classmate — and support each other.

The estimated 250-300 people who attended came with pink and blue balloons, candles and plenty of tissue for the tears. When the balloons were released just before the sun slipped from the sky Sunday evening, the sight provided a moment of joy and sadness for those attending.

There was prayer from Pastor Nate Alexander of Lake Ridge Christian Church where Maddie and her family attends. There were stories shared by her grandmothers, aunts and friends about her silliness and zest for living. Her family told of watching a flag raising ceremony at Carle Hospital that day by her brother, DJ, in honor of her organ donation. It flew in her honor.

There was something about standing in the PHS parking lot watching the line of cars on High School Road waiting to turn into the school lots that made my breath catch in my throat. It just wasn’t cars filled with Maddie’s classmates. There were entire families who came to offer support and honor her. There were members of Lake Ridge Christian Church, church youth groups and Sunday School classes in attendance.

I didn’t know Maddie — but I knew her mother and I worked with her father, B.J. at the local radio station. I can’t pretend to know the family’s depth of sorrow at the loss of this teenager. But I know this community — including its teenagers — stand ready to support the family anyway they can. 

An example? The Paris High School football team who are attending camp in Rantoul returned as a group to pay their respects Friday. It speaks volumes about our children and those who work with them.

Recent graduate Bryce Kohlmeyer was injured last weekend when the four-wheeler he was riding overturned. He was airlifted to Regional Hospital but released after a couple of days stay in ICU and the hospital. His parents expressed their thanks for all the texts, phone calls and prayers for Bryce. Again, thanks Paris and Edgar County.

I try not to get cynical about our community but it’s tough sometimes when we here at The Prairie Press are bombarded with complaints about everything from why meth dealers are still operating in the city and county to complaints about the judicial system to the demolition of buildings on the square. But it’s days like Sunday when the goodness of our friends and neighbors shines that remind me — and hopefully others — there’s so much to celebrate here.

We’re bombarded on social media and television with video and pictures of makeshift memorials for a celebrity or rock star when they die — whatever the circumstances. Those who live on the east or west coasts will never understand the Midwesterners’ care and love that motivates us.

What I do know is I’ve seen the best of our community this past week and for that, I’m eternally grateful.