Every Day is a Gift from God

The only way I can think to sum up everything that has happened to my hometown community in the last week, I look to my favorite NCIS character newly appointed Director of NCIS, Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) in response to the death of their agency’s Director…

“Bad few days…”

It was Christmas evening, around 10 after 6pm, when my wife and I finally had our own Mighty Pirate™1 and princesses packed up and strapped down in the minivan. We were finally ready to leave my parents’ house near uptown Syracuse, Indiana, after a very successful and long overdue gathering where literally my entire family was present. Such a gathering had not taken place since my younger brother got married earlier this year.

As we left, a few precious moments later about a half mile away tragedy would again strike an already devastated community in mourning. Let me back up for just a moment and get you up to speed…

photo courtesy WNDU-TV, South Bend.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, December 18th, tragedy gripped the area when Anna Barnard, a popular, well-loved transfer student from the U.K. who was attending Bethany Christian High School was killed in an automobile accident in Granger. According to initial news reports, Anna and a fellow student were heading westbound on S.R. 23 in Granger, between Fir and Santa Monica, when the vehicle lost control and slid into an oncoming van. Anna was a highly gifted, highly intelligent young lady who excelled academically, in athletics and especially swimming, and her loss was deeply felt by friends, family, classmates, and her community, which extended across schools to several of her athletic rivals.


Just a few hours later, in the midnight hour of December 19th, beloved community member, leader, and popular paraprofessional teacher Dana Arthur, passed away at a hospital in Melbourne, Florida. Having taught for Goshen, West Noble, and Wawasee Schools, she was known far and wide for her kindness and understanding and most definitely for her patience. She touched the lives of thousands of students and parents throughout her 32 years as a teacher. By dawn, news of her passing was just reaching the community she devoted much of her life to serving.


Already in mourning, the week continued. December 21st, the small town of Syracuse suffered another heartbreak when Jeff Rostochak was found in his home having passed away from a catastrophic heart attack. He was a lifetime Pierceton / Leesburg area resident. He retired in August 2015 from the Warsaw Fire Dept. after 28 years of service and was a substitute teacher for Wawasee Community School Corporation. Jeff was one of the most beloved and profound supporters of the Wawasee community both in academics and athletics, a loving husband, and devoted father,  Jeff helped coach in nearly every school sports as well as community youth little league, and even sometimes took the back seat to support and watch one of his four daughters play tennis or another sport in which they played.


from Google Maps

Flash forward once again to Christmas night…five minutes later. The final blow to hit the community this week came as news reports were coming in saying that Kim Conrad and her son Stephen Conrad II were tragically killed on impact in a head on collision in an area of town known as ‘Crazy Corners’ (a sort of “uber-intersection” made up of several smaller intersections). The accident took place outside my aunt and uncle’s house just east of the easternmost intersection where if you’re travelling westbound, you’re travelling up a blind hill that immediately crests into a series of stop signs.

Early reports suggested that a vehicle driven by a 26-year-old young man and his passenger drove left of the double-yellow lines at an excessive speed “drag racing” and intending on passing another vehicle and up that same blind hill. The Conrad vehicle, driven by husband and father and sole survivor Stephen Conrad I, had virtually no warning or lead time to avoid the high speed head-on collision.

Their son, Stephen was nothing short of an amazing young man. He was always willing to go out of his way and make a new friend, to reach out and listen when someone needed to talk, always loved and adored his family, and was a tremendously gifted golfer…something he was fiercely proud of. Stephen was inducted into the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, was an Indiana Amateur and Indiana Open champion, and most recently was serving as a staff member at the Anthem Golf Club in Phoenix. Growing up in Syracuse, Stephen was a celebrated athlete at Wawasee High School playing golf and basketball. He continued to play golf at the collegiate level at NOVA Southeastern and Johnson & Wales. In 2012 he won Champion of the Indiana Golf Tournament, and in 2015, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Golf Hall of Fame. Most recently, he and his brothers won the Alice Cooper Rock ‘N Roll Golf Classic in Phoenix, AZ.

Kim was a beloved and treasured wife and mother, a very well-known veteran (semi-retired) kindergarten teacher, cheerleading coach, and gymnastics judge for the Wawasee Community School Corporation, a very successful, hard-working realtor with Coldwell Banker, best friend, and friend all rolled into one. She wore so many hats, and so often wore them nearly all at the same time that it was very hard to tell which role she There were no strangers where she was concerned. She remembered and could recall instantly, the names and faces of thousands of her former students and athletes. To say that Kim and her family were staples within the Wawasee area (the combined communities of Syracuse, Milford, and North Webster) doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. She dedicated her life to the betterment of our community and her loss will be deeply felt for many years to come.

Leaving a conversation or a meeting with Kim, it was impossible not to feel uplifted and encouraged and must more importantly a better person. If you’ve known her for longer than 5 minutes, it’s hard to not have a funny or encouraging story about or involving Kim. Some of the most shared things about her are her literal constant smile and her two most common phrases of encouragement:

“Every day is a gift from God.”


“It’s all good.”

I remember being Assistant Coach/Operations Manager/Office Manager for the Girls’ Basketball program back in the early 2000’s at Wawasee High School and event supervisor extraordinaire for the greater Athletic Department for other sports. Sometimes I would get to work for Kim, and even alongside her at other sporting events and she would be pointedly asking about how your life was going and learning more and more about the people around her than about how she was doing. She even taught me how to manage and supervise a large group of very diverse people and teach them how to disassemble a 375ish piece multilayered springboard floor used for gymnastics and cheerleading practices and meets and reassemble it on the other side of the building in a different gymnasium…an operation that took nearly 3 hours to accomplish. In my 6 years there, because of her teaching, we were able to pull off the entire transformation nearly 30 times without a single breakdown. The most important thing she taught me was that no matter the contextual situation, “things will happen…” that it’s most important to roll with it, ride the wave, and recover each individual time so that you can manage the larger picture.

I think a lot of people forget to apply that to their own personal lives, and I would challenge any of you to think about it. Whether you’re raising children, dealing with a bad life or work situation, remember the big picture of your life. God has given and will continue to give you nothing more than HE KNOWS you can handle. (remember, it doesn’t mean something YOU THINK you can’t handle…God already KNOWS you can do it.)

Take each little speedbump you hit in life and roll with it…

ride the wave…

recover each and every individual time…

and always, always remember that with your trust and faith in God…


May you rest in the Glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all of your faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Show 1 footnote

  1. The Mighty Pirate™ moniker is a reference to the Monkey Island game series and is trademarked by and copyright of LucasArts, now Disney Interactive, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.


  1. Well said Chris! Unfortunately, many of us are also dealing with the loss of Dana Arthur, former paraprofessional at Syracuse and the death of the husband of a teacher that filled a maternity leave last year. It has been a very hard holiday season.

  2. Susan Toumey

    I am more recent in getting to know Kim, but she has certainly been a blessing to me and my family. Her positive attitude and encouragement were an uplifting gift and i will miss her even though I only met her a few months ago.

  3. It is such a great loss…….my family has known Kim and her family for a great many years….her boys played sports with my boys (Michael and Nicholas Richardson) and they have alot of found memories of them and alot of others that were on the teams. You were more then a team member you were a part of a family!!!!! My son Nick was going through some hard family things after my divorce and Kim stopped to talk to him and told him he would always have a place in her home. She always asked about Michael because of his own personal struggles and always in a loving way. He also played golf with Stephen.
    My daughter Jenna Laux was in cheerleaders and gymnastics so she has touched all my children’s lives…..
    She also helped me to sell my home….
    What a terrible tragic loss to us all ….
    God Please help this family heal!!!



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