A Nordonia family suffered a tragedy on January 11 when their house exploded. The family of four died. News that it was not accidental shocked the community, and we in the schools were devastated by the death of Ruthie Mather, a Northfield Elementary School second grader. Ruthie was smart, and sweet, and kind, and a wonderful artist. She was adored by teachers and classmates, and she loved coming to school. We will miss her terribly.
In times of tragedy, though, heroes emerge. The safety forces in our community do incredible work in horrible conditions, and they should be praised for their professionalism and calmness in the face of chaos.
The entire Northfield staff did incredible work helping their students and each other through the initial stages of the grieving process. Many, many staff members from other buildings offered amazing support as well.
Losing a student is a school person’s worst nightmare. The kids we work with every day are like our own. We are their surrogate mothers and fathers, and we are in a profession that has unbelievable highs and heart-breaking lows. The community should know how truly dedicated and caring the Nordonia Schools staff is. They are generous and empathetic and caring. Your kids are in good hands.
We also saw an outpouring of compassion and generosity from our community. A sampling of unsolicited emails I received in the hours following the tragedy show the mercy of this community.
From Lynn Hermensky: “Absolutely devastating. As you know I work for Hospice of the Western Reserve and we have a school crisis team – we absolutely can send someone out ASAP if you need additional resources. Please let me know as this is the least I can do until you let us parents know what else is needed.”
From Rev. Jason Haymaker: “Hi Dr. Clark. I am the Lead Pastor at Western Reserve Grace Church here in Macedonia. Writing to offer our help to come alongside you and your staff during this time of loss for students and families in light of the tragedy in Northfield. I have a family ministries staff that cover the ages of birth through High School. Myself, and my team offer to be at your disposal. I have no agenda other than authentically seeking to offer our encouragement and help. Please feel free to call me personally if we can help in anyway. Praying for you Dr. Clark. Leading through times like this is tough…I get it.”
From Rev. Russ Ham, Senior Pastor at United Methodist Church of Macedonia : “I am grateful for your concern, Joe; of course you can call on me or Paul Sheneman if necessary for any help. Situations like this make me thankful for many things, one of which is knowing the staff and faculty in our schools are caring, involved, compassionate and helpful. You all go far beyond academics. Lynn and I thank God for you regularly.”
From Dan Stanko, manager of Chick-fil-A: “Hi Joe. I heard about the tragedy in Northfield this morning – I want to help, please let me know what we can do. I know this is a hectic time but when you have the opportunity please call me at the restaurant or on my cell phone. In the meantime my leadership and I will be praying.” Chick-fil-A then provided lunch for all Northfield staff members for two days.
Each of us go through our lives with critics. Some of our critics are more vocal or visible than others, but as they say, there is always a guy in the crowd making fun of the hero’s shirt. While critics may need to look for the right time to throw stones, there is never a wrong time to be kind. And the truth is, the Nordonia community is full of kind, caring, compassionate people, people who go out of their way to help others in need.
Some people see the donut, and some people see the hole. I see the donut. (In fact, I see way too many donuts if you know what I mean). When I retire a long time from now, I’m going to remember all of the wonderful people I worked with and the community I served.
Nordonia is a fabulous place. You should be proud of your community and proud of your schools. Don’t let it take a tragedy to remember that.