Finding strength amid a small-town tragedy

Mass school shootings, bombings in Boston, an economic disaster, and a government shutdown.

You want to talk about bad? It’s bad. And a pessimist would say it’s bad everywhere. But I disagree.

This summer, tragedy struck my small town. A car accident took the lives of three young adults and severely injured two more as they returned home from their volunteer positions as teacher’s aides.

Fewer than 3,000 people call Caledonia-Mumford home. One by one, the people of Cal-Mum fell silent as they heard what happened. People left work. The school cancelled activities. Sidewalks and streets emptied. No one knew how to comprehend what they had just learned.

The next night the church held a vigil for the victims. The townspeople stood shoulder to shoulder on the front lawn. Youth soccer teams came in uniform, straight from their games. The 20-something first responders, close friends of all five, shed tears. Past teachers, principals and coaches were scattered throughout the crowd with their families. The pastor stood on the steps of the church, sharing cheerful memories of Chris and Taylor. They prayed for Emily, Joanne and Michaela, still in critical condition. After learning of Emily’s passing later that week, the same people came together again. Each person held a candle, illuminating the front lawn of the high school. Friends passed a microphone and shared personal stories of Taylor and siblings Chris and Emily.

Though not much could help the families of those who’d passed, people brought dinners to their houses, laid flowers on their porches and made sure their lawns were mowed.

Lawn signs bearing five maroon hearts mute testimony to the loss of the “Cal-Mum 5.”

The phrase spread to surrounding towns. The “Cal-Mum 5” logo replaced profile pictures on social media. Cal-Mum Strong t-shirts replaced shirts and ties. Wristbands with initials of the victims replaced watches.

Second-graders student-taught by Joanne sold lemonade to help pay her hospital bills. They raised $2,700.

Neighboring town Le Roy, held a 5K race, raising more than $16,000 to benefit the victims.  More than 600 runners from both towns participated. The two rivals who, in just a few weeks, would be yelling “destroy Leroy” and “Cal-Mum scum” from across the football field united in their “Cal-Mum Strong” t-shirts. Avon neighbors Cal-Mum as well. Avon’s student council sponsored an event releasing more than 100 paper lanterns into the sky to honor and raise money for the victims. The student body invited Cal-Mum students to their homecoming dance following the event.

Three months have passed, “Cal-Mum Strong” bumper stickers have found a home on nearly every car window.  T-shirts may be stained and over-worn, but they’re now an emblem of the town. The maroon and white lawn signs may be faded, but they’re still standing.

Caledonia-Mumford, a town with no more than a small grocery store and a family-owned pizza shop, embraced its tragedy-struck sons and daughters.  The people of Cal-Mum became a stronger family through disaster. That’s what small towns do–embrace the good.

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15 thoughts on “Finding strength amid a small-town tragedy

  1. It makes me think of the town of Whoville in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. I can’t begin to fathom such a place or how I would adapt to such gatherings. It’s alien to me. I also don’t understand the racing for charity thing. People hurt themselves to raise money for some unrelated cause. And, t-shirts and bracelets are made in such excess. The community spirit and favors are great. The merchandising and racing isn’t necessary.

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      • My young cousin died in this tragedy. How dare this horrific event be compared to the Grinch who Stole Christmas. It sickens me that people are so “cold” like this. First off, however VERY grateful for the support of the community and surrounding ones, my family never “asked” for these events to take place. No amount of money can even come close to bringing her back. The families involved are suffering greatly and by no means are getting rich, but just getting support for funeral and medical costs of their children. Thank you for those who have reached out in our time of need. CM strong! And will forever love you my Sweet Taylor!

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    • The race raised thousands of dollars. The families of these children walked the route with their neighbors.

      These bracelets and shirts were designed and sold by students- children! Children trying to do their part to help support their friends an neighbors! Wearing these things and displaying these logos is also a sign of emotional support.

      Every little bit counts when it comes from the heart.

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  2. The pessimism of two comments on here is appalling. It’s also indicative of the fact that neither of you understand human behavior. The race and merchandise serves as a rallying point for the community, it also adds incentive for those community members that would not otherwise become involved or contribute. When proceeds go to charity, no one is profiting off the race or merchandise. However, you missed the point of the entire article as you both went on your little diatribes. For that reason alone I feel sorry for the lense in which you each see the world. Perhaps you should take a second look from another perspective, like the family’s.

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  3. When a tragedy hits, particularly one of this magnitude, people want to do something tangible. Nothing will ever fill the holes in a parent’s heart when a child is lost – but the last thing those parents should need to worry about is how they’re going to pay for funeral expenses, emergency expenses, medical expenses… the funds raised through the efforts of this community have helped relieve these burdens. To be frank, we’d been considering moving, but we’re so proud to have seen and been part of the support, love and outreach of this community – we’re staying.

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  4. My family is personally living this tragedy. Negatives comments, such as the one made above, shows that they have probably never dealt with a tragedy of this magnitude and that they most likely live in a large city where an outpouring of love and support, like what we have seen in the Caledonia area, would most likely NEVER happen. I pity you. We have appreciated everyone’s efforts and accomplishments in helping to comfort and support my family. Living in a small town…is like living in a large family ❤

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  5. I also live in a nearby town and was so amazed at the outpouring of love and support for these families. Tragedies such as this affect not only the families, but all of those who were touched by these young people as well as those who did not know them. These were young people with great futures ahead of them, and their lives were cut short way too soon. And we cannot forget the two young girls who survived as they also have to live with the loss of their friends as well as trying to get their lives back. God bless the Cal-Mum community and all of those people who have stood by these families.

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  6. @Wrightingbolt… It is sad that a community such as Cal-Mum foreign to you. It is an amazing place to be live. The community is like none other. i am proud to be from there!!

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  7. I come from a small town where many young adults ha passed due to accidents. I really believe if you haven’t been touched by such a tragedy, you will never “get it”. The outporing of caring, sharing and dinners taken to the grieving should be a givin not the exception. I am very sorry your community has to go through this kind of pain. You are on your way to finding peace with your community family. I wish you nothing less than peace and a healing hearts.

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  8. It’s a very hard thing to understand such a horrible accident to happen in such a small town.I didn’t know any of the kids but have a lot of friends who were close to them all.My heart still goes out to all the families hope they remember all the special memories they hold with there children and friends.All the fund raisers were an awesome job done by all the communities .Stay Strong Cal-Mum and always cherish the 3 special angels watching over you all.Hope Joanne and Michaela are mending and on the road to full recovery..God Bless You All

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