story and illustrations by Tyler Sayer with Chloe Tubbs and Alicia Ticer
Maybe it was the impending Valentine’s Day, but love was in the air on Feb. 8, 2012. And it wasn’t your typical romantic comedy, head-over-heels, kiss-under-the-stars type of love. It was something far less fairy tale: brotherly love.
Twenty guys were packed in Scott Wood’s small St. Charles, Missouri, living room reminiscing on the good times as if the unthinkable wasn’t going to happen at any minute.
It was just a day earlier that the Lambda Chi Alpha president, Benny Dorris, received a call and found out that Scott, who had been fighting a rare form of bone marrow cancer for four years, had taken a turn for the worse and probably wasn’t going to make it through the weekend. So they wasted no time, got a group together and headed to Scott.
“We just kind of hung out,” explains Luke Hartenstein, fellow Lambda Chi Alpha brother and close friend of Scott, “It was just like old times.” Stories and laughter were shared amongst the group while Scott sipped on Hawaiian Punch.
These are the moments that Wood loved. In Lambda Chi Alpha he was the High Beta, vice president of brotherhood. And he was elected for a reason.
The brothers say it would have been easy to forget what brought them together when the conversation got going, but then the doctor arrived. The group began to shuffle out of the room to give Wood privacy.
“I want you guys to hear this,” Wood said, ceasing all movement toward the door. “Doc, is there anything more that we can do?”
After a long pause, the doctor replied, “No, Scott. We’re just here to make sure that you’re comfortable.”
Then Wood turned and said, “There it is, boys.”
The room fell silent. Most attempted to mask their emotions, but the heartbreak was painted vividly across their faces. Scott looked death in the face and accepted his fate. Why was that so difficult for those around him?
Shortly thereafter, Wood headed to bed, and the guys headed home.
The following morning Dorris received the call everyone was expecting but nobody wanted to hear.
“The day of the accident was a Sunday afternoon,” remembers Cindi Silvey, mother of Meghan Herndon. It was Sept. 9, 2012, and she was unpacking a few boxes after having her carpet in her St. Louis home redone.
“Everything was in disarray.”
It’s days like these where your space and mind are already cluttered, that you don’t even have time to think about anything else. All you can do is work through it and hope that nothing else adds to the clutter. It was at right about this moment when Silvey received a phone call from Meg’s father that would do much more than add to the clutter.
“Meg was in an accident; she’s being taken to the hospital now.”
Heading in to her shift at Southeast Hospital, 21-year old Meghan Herndon, a Southeast nursing student, was driving through the intersection of Sprigg and Normal in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on her scooter when a truck collided with her while turning through the intersection. Herndon was not wearing a helmet.
Silvey had a bag packed and was on the road headed towards Cape Girardeau within ten minutes. She got on the phone with a doctor and due to her background as a trauma nurse, she understood immediately the possible severity of Meg’s injuries.
“The emotions kicked in,” explains Silvey. The hardest part for her was the internal struggle between her motherly instincts and nursing mentality. Incredibly, she managed to remain in “nursing mode” for most of the trip down. She put all her focus on driving and getting to her daughter with the thought that was overtaking her mind, “I just want her to be alive when I get there.”
And she was.
Meg’s entire Redhawks soccer team greeted Silvey at the hospital and offered whatever support she could need, but she was still in nurse mode. Her only mission was to get Herndon to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
“I knew, just based on her injuries, that that’s where she needed to go.” That’s where the longest 11 days of Cindi Silvey’s life were spent.
As the days passed, people came and offered support. Herndon seemed to have an endless stream of visitors at all times. Silvey says once Meg was stablized, they were able to see the full extent of the injuries sustained.
“At that point,” Silvey says, “the news came that none of us wanted to hear.”
Silvey says she still managed to stay in nurse mode. Using the next few days to decide a proper course of action, register her as an organ donor, fill out stacks upon stacks of paper work and give everyone a chance for a final visit.
On Sept. 20, 2012, with her mother, father, step-father and boyfriend present, Meg lost her fight.
“It’s kind of a moment that… it’s just kind of unreal.”
“Bobby, what would I ever do without you?”
“Your life would be very boring.”
These were the final words Aaron Clite says he exchanged with his friend Bobby Christman.
It was Jan. 11, 2015, early in the morning. Aaron Clite, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, was sitting at his Arnold, Missouri, home. Many of his friends were out celebrating the birthday of a mutual friend, but Aaron decided to stay home. All was at peace.
Early that morning, Clite says the phone rang. He answered to hear a fellow fraternity brother and big brother to Bobby Christman, sounding frantic, “Aaron, Bobby’s been shot!”
When you hear words like that, the mind goes in a thousand different directions. Clite says he recalled thinking immediately, “Great, he shot himself in the foot. What was he doing?”
“No Aaron, this is very serious, they don’t know if he’s going to live.” Christman had been a victim of a robbery attempt.
Silence. What do you say? What do you say when you find out that your fraternity brother, your best friend might not live; when everything changes in an instant?
Clite says when he arrived at the hospital, the waiting room was already packed with loved ones.
“It was an emotional mess,” says Clite. “His brother was there with him. I didn’t know what to think. I was just praying that he’d survive.”
By morning, Clite had taken everyone home. It had been a long night. As he walked through his front door, he says the phone rang again.
“Aaron, you need to come back to the hospital, they don’t think he’s going to make it.” Without hesitation, Clite says he was back at the hospital.
He says he was able to see Christman one last time.
“That was tough, very tough… to see somebody like that. I like to think I am tough person, I really do … but that tore me apart.”
Robert Kennedy said, “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”
And, far too often that’s all it does. But tragedy also has the power to bring people together and to accomplish tasks that before might have seemed impossible.
Hartenstein says he can only describe Scott Wood with the phrase “personal courage.” Scott came to college with cancer. Scott rushed a fraternity with cancer. Scott was told he was going to die because of cancer. And that never stopped him. Scott had courage most men only dream of.
Hartenstein says that last visit was important, for all of them.
“Scott’s father, Trevor, told me at the funeral, he felt like Scott was waiting for us to come and see him before…, and not that we felt that way too, but it was a very nice goodbye.”
The story could have ended here. The brothers got to experience one last good time with Wood before his passing. And, though, while tragic, many times when we experience loss in life, we are told our focus has to be to move on. The brothers of Lambda Chi weren’t ready to move on. They lost a friend who showed unbelievable courage, and they wanted everyone to remember that strength. Before Scott’s death, t-shirts were created reading “Jock Strong” (Jock was Scott’s nickname). The shirts were sold to help alleviate the burden of medical expenses for his family. After his death, people all around campus, not just in Lambda Chi or Greek life, were wearing his shirt and remembering his legacy. The back reads “It’s not one man fighting alone, but a brotherhood fighting together.” Since the campaign started, more than 800 shirts have been sold, raising more than $9,000. What’s more impressive, more and more are sold every year—to students who never met Scott. Half of the money raised was used to help the Woods’ family cover medical expenses while the other half went to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a group who funds research for childhood cancer and who helped the Woods’ family during their struggle.
Kevin Marquez didn’t begin attending Southeast until a year and a half after Scott’s death. That didn’t stop him from starting an annual dodgeball tournament in Scott’s name.
“What inspired me to start this tournament was to help support cancer research. Cancer affects so many of our close friends and family and anything that helps raise awareness or raise support for the cause is beneficial.”
The Scott Wood Memorial Dodgeball Tournament has proven to be very successful in its first two years raising more than $1,000 and helping more Jock Strong shirts to be sold. All the proceeds have gone to St. Baldricks, and Marquez is hoping for
the third year to be even more successful.
Wood’s name is on the dodgeball tournament and the Jock Strong shirt, but his memory goes much deeper than that. His brothers say he will forever be remembered by anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him, for his kind heart, strong will, and infectious love for people and life.
“At least I had 11 more days with her,” Silvey says to herself in a mournful yet reassuring tone. “And so many people came to see her and be with her on the last day.”
Meg Herndon was an inspiration in everything she did from walking on to a Division I soccer team and earning a scholarship to tutoring her teammates in subjects she never had. She set out to prove what she was capable of and touched many lives during her journey. She was a stellar student-athlete, in her final year of nursing, and in the last season of her collegiate soccer career.
There’s no doubt Herndon’s influence on her teammates would have remained strong. For her family, her vivacity would forever be part of her memory. Learning to live without your child is every parent’s worst nightmare. But Silvey wasn’t ready to learn that lesson. Something had to happen. On Sept. 20, 2012, Meg became an organ and tissue donor. On Nov. 16, 2012, a scooter ordinance went into effect in the city of Cape Girardeau. The ordinance requires anyone on a scooter to wear a Department of Transportation approved helmet while riding their scooters. On July 23, 2013, tickets were sold to a St. Louis Cardinals game to help raise money for an endowed scholarship formed in Herndon’s memory.
To date, Herndon’s scholarship has raised more than $50,000 in less than three years to help other Southeast students who share Meg’s passions. Since her passing, Silvey speaks at different conferences and conventions to help raise awareness about scooter safety and advocate for new safety laws, like the city of Cape’s, being enforced everywhere scooters are legal.
Silvey now volunteers as a family liaison in the ICU at Barnes where Meg’s final days were spent. About once a month, she brings hope to families whose loved ones are fighting for their lives by sitting with them, talking to them and being there for whatever they may need. Barnes organizes the program with the Trauma Survivor Network. Trauma survivors or loved ones of trauma patients are placed in hospitals to be the support system so many families desperately need.
“I do it to help the families,” explains Silvey, “but it also helps me. To know the experience of what it is to sit there for twelve days and not know what’s going to happen.”
Herndon’s rally cry, “impossible is nothing” as well as the spirit of the vivacious, redhead, informal leader remains part of the soccer team.
Clite knows just the story to tell anytime someone asks him who was Bobby Christman: He was in his room one night around 2 a.m. and there was a knock at his door. He rolled his eyes with a smile. He answered the door and there stood Christman. He said, “Aaron, I need you to sign my petition.”
Clite chuckled and responded, “Okay. What are you making a petition for at two in the morning that is so important I need to sign it right now?”
“It’s a petition to get more Flaming Hot Cheetos in Rowdy’s.”
Clite laughs at the memory. “First of all, he loved Flaming Hot Cheetos, it was kind of his thing. But, he was so dedicated to what he did and he was dedicated to the fraternity.”
Christman lives on through his fellow brothers and friends, and they wasted no time in honoring his name. Clite and several brothers headed to Conclave, the Sig Ep national conference, this year to receive the Honor of Philias award, one of the highest honors in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. In it’s 26-year history, it has only been awarded 14 times. It is awarded to chapters or individuals in cases of extreme brotherly love. And extreme brotherly love is what happened here.
A few days after Christman passed, several brothers faced Clite with a tough question, “What do we do now?” What do you do after a tragedy like this? It’s hard enough maintaining the strength to wake up and go about your daily life, let alone act. But they knew sitting around would solve nothing, so they acted.
After some brainstorming, they decided to start an endowed scholarship through the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation in Christman’s honor. But to do this successfully, they needed money. The chapter opened a GoFundMe page sharing his story and their vision to honor his memory. In just 24 hours, they had already raised over $1,000. Three days later, his story had been shared more than 100,000 times on Facebook and the account reached just over $28,000. Today, over $30,000 has been donated to the scholarship.
Through the life and memory of Bobby Christman, those who knew him personally, as well as those throughout the nation who have simply heard his story, have been moved by his courageous vigor for life. Just as he was a driven and energetic individual, the scholarship established in his memory will continue to help and support students’ dreams and ambitions.
Do scholarships and dodgeball tournaments help us suffer less when faced with undeniable pain? No, they are not the cure. The sad truth is that nothing can take away the hurt that comes with tragedy. What the students and parents of those who have lost loved ones found is that the burden gets eased somewhat by providing hope for those who are left. Hope for other families through organ donation. Hope for young adults by wearing a t-shirt honoring their friend. Hope for students filled with dreams and ambitions to fund their education because of memorial scholarships.
In tragedy, we look for answers. Often, there simply aren’t any. But without the tragic end to the lives of Scott Wood, Meg Herndon and Bobby Christman, less money would have been raised for cancer research, no helmet ordinance for scooters would be on the books, people wouldn’t have received life saving organ donations, and $80,000 less in scholarships would be available for deserving students. Does that negate the tragedies for the families who lost loved ones? No, but it does help those families who won’t have to face hardship thanks to strength of the Wood, Herndon and Christman families and friends and how they chose to act during their time of pain.
December 15, 2015
December 15, 2015
December 11, 2015