I don’t know this family from Bluffton and I hadn’t heard their story until reading this article. But I do know they are living a contagious life. Despite many trials, they are still choosing to give. When shown generosity, they’re returning it by giving to others. I was inspired by this story and I hope it speaks to you as well. Remember, by giving, we are rich.
Shared from the Bluffton News-Banner
August 16, 2011
On behalf of a very grateful family
By Justin Peeper
This month marks an anniversary of sorts for me at The News-Banner, as it was five years ago that editor Mark Miller gave me the opportunity to write a weekly column. In the 13 years I’ve been working at the paper, mostly in part-time roles, covering the news and writing a weekly commentary have been the highlights.
While each week’s column is different, the hope here is that one theme has emerged in this space since August 2006: I love this community and cannot imagine living in a more caring place.
I know of no other community that unites more than we do to help others when a family is going through tough times. I’ve traveled as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska, to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, and have yet to discover such a supportive place that is home to so many generous people.
My family has been on the receiving end of this support twice in the last six years, most recently over the summer. I’m writing this column today on behalf of my family, especially my cousin and his wife, Zach and Meghann Powers of Ossian.
Zach and Meghann’s 3-month-old son Xander E. Powers passed away July 29 after battling the neo-muscular genetic disorder spinal muscular atrophy, which causes a person’s motor neurons to die. It has no cure.
Xander was their first child and his life started like any normal newborn, but at his one-month checkup his doctor noticed that he wasn’t moving his arms and legs like babies his age. Another visit to a neurologist revealed that Xander had Type 1 of spinal muscular atrophy. Just looking at him, however, you never would have known there was anything wrong with him. His smile was contagious, and his blond hair, blue eyes and facial features made him a spitting image of his dad.
The weeks that followed were some of the most difficult times Zach, Meghann and our family have ever faced. Xander was in and out of the hospital and Zach and Meghann had to make decisions no parents should ever have to think about.
Xander fought hard but passed away on a Friday morning at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne.
The support our family received throughout Xander’s illness was not only overwhelming but humbling. Our friends, neighbors, community members, businesses and even complete strangers wrapped their arms around Zach and Meghann to spiritually and financially support them each step of the way.
Let me give you a little idea of what our community did to help.
Fox Contractors, where Zach works, organized a golf outing at Green Valley Golf Club in Bluffton, as well as a cookout and bake sale. Countless sponsors from not only Indiana but across the nation supported the event. Sign City of Bluffton donated 50 percent of the proceeds from the Pray for Xander Powers signs back to the family. A portion of the proceeds from Bluffton’s Napa Open golf outing also went to the family. Thoma/Rich, Chaney and Lemler Funeral Home donated their services, and Bluffton restaurant TW Fable also helped by donating proceeds to the family. A myriad of other businesses put Pray for Xander on their signs. Meghann’s colleagues from Northern Wells also prepared meals and delivered them to their house and the funeral home.
Many of our family’s friends also sponsored cornhole tournaments, garage sales, bake sales, lemonade stands and even sweet corn sales to raise money.
We can’t forget to mention the health care providers. Family friend Todd Reimschisel spoke with Ossian EMS and first responders to let them know about Xander’s condition. Ossian rescue crews had to rush Xander to the hospital twice, and they were always so quick to respond and so professional. They even came to the funeral home during calling hours, which speaks volumes about our county’s emergency crews. We can’t say enough about the staff at Lutheran Hospital, as every health care worker went out of their way to help.
Stacks of cards arrived at Zach and Megann’s house, and Xander’s Facebook fan page had 1,290 likes. Friends and strangers left hundreds uplifting messages.
Our family experienced the same type of support just six years ago after Zach’s 15-year-old brother Evan suffered a head injury after falling from a workshop he and my grandfather were building. Evan was airlifted to Parkview Hospital, where he underwent two brain operations, but he never awoke from his trauma-induced coma and died four days later.
During those four days, however, countless friends and strangers from Wells County united to support and uplift Evan’s mom Sheryl and his two siblings. The hospital’s chapel could not even hold all of the students from Norwell High School who traveled up by the bus load to support Evan’s mother and our family, many camping out at the hospital.
From fund-raising events to benefit concerts to prayer after prayer and more, Wells County uplifted our family as we struggled through the most difficult experience any of us had ever faced.
We’ll never be able to pay back all of this support, but we will try our hardest to pay it forward. The golf outing will even become an annual event to raise money for the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Association and Kate’s Kart, an organization that gives free books to hospitalized children. Zach and Meghann are planning to make a donation to both organizations in Xander’s name with any remaining contributions from the past three months.
As you can see, the outcry of support was humbling. But more amazing is how normal it is for this community to join forces to help those going through tough times. I’ve lived here all of my life — the better part of 30 years — and can’t even begin to count how often I’ve seen Wells County residents, businesses, schools and churches step up to support anyone who needs it, whether it be here or half-way across the world.
Just last week, for example, Wells County raised some $20,000 at the first-ever Steve Kelly Cancer Relief Foundation fundraiser to donate back to Wells County families affected by cancer.
We are truly blessed to live in such a caring community, and my family and I are humbled again at the support we received. There is no place like Wells County.
by JUSTIN PEEPER