The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

July 21, 2011

Mike Pound: Group comes together for mother, child

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — The women all knew each other but they didn’t know each other well.

They grew up in the same town, and they graduated from the same high school, but because of their slight age differences none of them were ever close friends.

“We never ran around together,” Niki Anderson said. “We’re just a random group who decided we needed to help Crystal.”

The “Crystal” that Niki referred to is Crystal Whitely. I mentioned Crystal, 31, in a column a few days ago. Crystal was at her home at 1602 E. 19th St. when the May 22 tornado hit. She and her three children — Shante, 10, Trenton, 6, and Keana, 4 — were huddled in the bathtub when the storm ripped through the house. The tornado picked up the tub, and tossed out Crystal and the children.

Crystal and Keana would spend the next week in the hospital. Shante and Trenton did not make it. Their bodies were found hours after the storm hit.

Now, Crystal and Keana are beginning the painful reconstruction of their lives. Crystal knows things for them will never be normal again, but she knows they have to go on. “We are just going to have to make our own normal,” is what she said earlier this week.

Crystal is originally from Baxter Springs, Kan. She graduated from Baxter Springs High School. So did the group of women who are working to help Crystal, who because of her injuries hasn’t been able to return work. She and Keana are staying with Crystal’s parents in Baxter Springs. And, even while Crystal still carries storm debris in her legs, the medical bills will soon start to arrive.

“Our goal is to at least be able to set them gently back on their feet,” Niki said. “To help them through this trial.”

Among the group of women from Baxter Springs, Niki, who is two years older than Crystal, probably saw one another in high school the most. The girls were never close friends, though they did share a few classes together, Niki said.

“I sat next to her in a few classes, and I always remember her as being such a sweet, good girl. She was kind of shy, but she was so sweet,” Niki said.

On Saturday, July 30, the women are holding a fundraiser for Crystal. The event gets under way at 4 p.m. at the Kiwanis park on the east side of Baxter Springs. For five bucks you’ll be able to get on the outside of grilled hamburgers or hot dogs, a variety of side dishes, and homemade pie. All of the food and all of the effort that will go into the churning that food out will be donated, Niki said.

Local musicians will provide entertainment, and a children’s play area will feature face painting and an inflatable “bouncy castle.”

“It will be a family fun event,” Niki said.

As Niki said earlier, the goal of the event is to help Crystal and Keana move forward, but moving forward does not mean forgetting the past. While it probably doesn’t do much good to wallow in the past, it also doesn’t pay to forget the past. Sometimes remembering can help you move forward.

Sometime in the evening of July 30, trees will be planted in the Kiwanis park in honor of Shante and Trenton. There will also be a balloon launch to pay tribute to the children.

“It’s a fine line,” Niki said. “We want to remember why we are doing it (the fundraiser), but it’s also important that we are there to love on her (Crystal) and to show her we support her.”

A fund has been set up for Crystal and Keana at the American Bank in Baxter Springs. Checks may be made out in care of the Crystal Whitely Fund at the bank at 1201 Military Ave., Baxter Springs, KS 66713. Donations can also be made online at CrystalWhitelypaypal@yahoo.com.

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Tornado: Mike Pound