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Community rallies to support Granton family in time of loss

Community rallies to support Granton family in time of loss Community rallies to support Granton family in time of loss

An unexpected loss dealt a heavy blow to a local family in what is already a challenging time. However, the community has rallied around the family, raising thousands of dollars through a GoFundMe page, and showing that in the darkest of times, the love of others shines through.

“It’s been very inspiring to see,” said Father Keith Kitzhaber of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Marshfield. “I’ve been very surprised by the overwhelming support.”

The Thomas family of Granton lost a wife and mother on March 17. Tennille Thomas passed away at the age of 43 due to complications from childbirth, leaving behind her husband, Wayne, and their 10 children. The youngest, Mark, was in the neonatal intensive care unit but has since recovered and gone home.

Kitzhaber was on call the morning Tennille passed away.

“I got the call at 6 a.m. to come and anoint her at the hospital. So I was able to do that and she passed away around 7,” he said.

Kitzhaber stayed to pray with the family and provide any comfort he could. After leaving, his thoughts remained on the family. He already had a bit of a connection to them as he and Wayne had attended high school in Greenwood together. More recently, he had seen Wayne a couple times at local Knights of Columbus meetings.

Being from a family of nine himself, Kitzhaber knew the potential financial strain a situation like this could place on the family.

“With having a large family, having the funeral to pay for, and the lock-down going on so their dad might not be working – with all these factors, it [helping out] seemed like the normal thing to do,” said Kitzhaber. By the next day, he knew what he was going to do.

“I wanted to find some way to help so I set up a GoFund-Me page,” he said. “I started with a goal of $10,000 because I figured that should at least cover the cost of the funeral. Well, we raised $10,000 in the first day, so I thought, ‘Let’s make it $25,000.’” Kitzhaber advertised the fundraiser in a couple newspapers. People also took to social media to spread the word, with the GoFundMe page getting over 2,800 shares. As of Monday, $23,595 had been raised.

“We heard that he [Kitzhaber] had established a GoFundMe page and we didn’t expect that at all,” said Tennille’s daughter Cheyenne. “And never in our wildest imaginations did we expect it to go this far.”

Folks from Granton, the surrounding communities and even across the country have chipped in, with many of the donations given anonymously. Kitzhaber received a $1,000 donation from a Knights of Columbus chapter in Virginia that heard of the Thomases’ story and wanted to help. Another individual Knights member donated $1,000.

“Part of our mission is to care for brother knights in need, so as a member, he wanted to do that,” said Kitzhaber.

He said he was grateful for every donation, from the small amounts all the way up to $1,500.

“It all helps, so that money isn’t a burden in the near future,” he said.

The outpouring of support has been amazing, said Cheyenne.

“Within the first week, we were looking at the page and there were people that donated that we haven’t seen in years. It’s just phenomenal to see the amount of impact. In regular life, you don’t usually see the impact you have on a person. But in instances like this, it’s overwhelming, in a good way. People always talk about how we live in such a great community but you don’t always see it. But when something like this happens, you see love, when people come to help you. It’s really touching,” she said. “Mom was the heart and center of our family and she had such an impact on our lives, so people see her in us.”

The Thomases have been blessed by the support of their church family at St. Mary’s in Neillsville as well as the people of Neillsville, Granton, Greenwood and Loyal and the surrounding areas. They’ve also been blessed by the support of people they’ve never even met, said Cheyenne. She said they were grateful to everyone who has helped in some way, whether it’s been monetary donations, prayers, cards or words of comfort.

“‘Thank you’ doesn’t quite encompass the gratitude we feel. Unfortunately, language can’t quite encompass it. But we are very, very grateful,” said Cheyenne. “It’s nice to know that there are people out there to catch you when you fall.

“I hope people realize that the things you do for others, even the simplest of things, matter. You may never realize the impact you have on someone else’s life.”

Tennille Thomas