Sunday, March 11, 2012

You May Be Wondering…

Now that you have journeyed with me through the historical review of one solitary family—that of Frank Stevens of Chicago—and have seen all the tragedy that, incredibly, could befall one single family, you may find yourself full of questions.

I do have a reason for telling you this story, though. And that reason has to do with one unifying factor that runs through each of these tragedies. Can you tell what it is?

Kudos to those of you making the astute observation that almost all of these events predate the widespread use of seat belts, but that is not the unifying factor to which I’m referring.

For those of you suspecting some effects of post-war stress dictating the subsequent poor life choices of World War II veteran Frank and Korean veteran Gerry, Frank’s brother, you are close. According to family members, the fun and easygoing Frank was never quite the same after coming home from war; I imagine it would be much the same for his younger brother after service in the Korean conflict. And yes, there certainly was a type of post-stress for John Kelly, too, who lost his father, Frank, at a vulnerable age.

For that observation, you are getting warm. But not entirely accurate. There is more.

The one unifying factor in each of these three traffic collisions—regardless of who was driving, what type of car was involved, or which road it was on—was a substance: alcohol.

On his long drive home in 1966, the last night he called his wife to promise he was finally on his way, Frank had just left a lounge. He had most certainly been drinking, which may have contributed to his choice of such a high speed in attempting to negotiate the curve on the highway that claimed his life.

On his way home from the party that Friday night in 1970 when he bummed a ride from another party-goer whom he didn’t really know, Kelly ended up the passenger of a driver whose post-party skill was most certainly impaired.

Coming home at that tell-tale post-two a.m. time that Saturday night in 1977, Gerry was also most certainly a victim of alcohol—either by the driver of the vehicle in which he was riding, or by the driver of the vehicle that approached his car head-on. Or perhaps by both.

What a price to pay. It was hard enough to write about such losses. It surely was not breezy reading for you, either, if you slogged through all those episodes. But to actually have to live it—that was unbearable.

And yet, as sometimes happens, that which seems utterly unbearable is sometimes turned into something which benefits others. This can only happen when it becomes a life story—something you live through, something which propels you through its sheer unbearableness to seek answers—and relief!—for yourself.

This past week—on the eve of student celebrations such as spring break, proms and graduations—marks the beginning of another season in our county of the program known as Every15 Minutes. The Every 15 Minutes program is actually a nationally-known program, but our state makes it possible for high schools to participate in this program on behalf of their students through a grant process. The event is fairly well structured through both the national program and state mandates so that, if you were to attend any one given high school’s Every 15 Minutes this year, you would find it essentially the same in format as any other.

My husband, working years ago in law enforcement, at one point found himself assigned to a position which required his participation in this program. As he performed his duties at the assigned high school, he found more and more aspects of the Every 15 Minutes program for which he could add suggestions to make the outcome more effective for the students. Over the years, he became more and more involved, and started sharing his personal story in a way that has touched audiences time and time again. Though he now no longer works directly for law enforcement but in his own business as a motivational speaker and trainer, he still is an integral part in getting this message out to thousands of high school juniors and seniors.

No one can tell a story like that and not have first lived it. The price he paid to be that little boy in that story—the forlorn observer of all that tragedy—has somehow been turned around to be the very thing that has prevented others from experiencing such heartbreak.

Disclaimer: national regulations now require writers to be "transparent" in revealing any "conflict of interest" regarding financial matters referred to in their writing--so writing this series, and this post in particular, leaves me in a position in which I must make a declaration that, should you click on the family business link that further explains this family's involvement in speaking at the Every 15 Minutes programs, you will be reading material for which, should you subsequently be persuaded to choose to do business with the principals of that website, you may simultaneously be affecting me in a positive financial manner. However, you can be pretty sure that the things I said here were not influenced by financial considerations--believe me, living this stuff is not easy!--though they were influenced in a much more intangible way by my personal involvement with the subjects of these stories. Whew! That sounds so legal... 


  1. I had been wondering. My thoughts were more along the lines of "this family really needs to stay out of cars" but also, I had noticed a close bit of editing on your part that left the cause of each accident (speculated or otherwise) out of the story. Since all these accidents happened at a late hour, I had my suspicions as to the cause - but due to your editing, I figured you didn't want to talk about it. It's a raw nerve subject for many.

    What is so sad, is that Frank had so much to look forward to - his beautiful wife, his four growing sons, a post war life in a booming economy... but as the song goes, "nobody knows the trouble" he had seen. No one can put themselves in his shoes and know how he was adapting to what he saw in the Pacific, or "frights" the Cold War he may have suffered, nor the possible lack of excitement his new career held.

    A lot of servicemen I know "retired" to the deserts of the southwest and "rotted" away - their lifes forever altered - as they continued to pay the price of having "been there" in the most horrible war this war has ever known (to date). They all remain Heros - their human failings makes them even bigger ones.

    The others it seems, were in the wrong place at the wrong time - and not so much in charge of their own fates...and "life happened." Saying that doesn't bemean nor belittle them - or the fact that they were loved and others had big dreams and hopes for them - and experienced the agony of seeing those dreams and hopes snuffed out.

  2. That long ago sadness has been transformed to help reach teens...I am sure your husband is a hero to many.
    As in any "Family Tapesty" there are threads of different colors all woven together..I think you are adding the bright sparkly threads now:)

    1. Right now, you and I are on the same wave-length, Far Side! I had pre-posted tomorrow's entry, and that is the same theme I had picked up on for tomorrow's close. Thank you for the "bright sparkly" part,'s a consolation to know that even a story like this can turn around to add a little bit of glimmer to someone's future.


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