By Mary Peterson for the Dialog Newspaper
He heard the kids first. Chase and Paige came running into the house, “Dad, we had so much fun,” they shouted exuberantly. Nancy walked in next and gave her husband, Dwight, a kiss. She was tired, but she smiled while listening to the kids describe their trip. Chase was nine and Paige was twelve; the three of them had just returned from three days in Ocean City, Maryland.
Two days later, Nancy became ill and was in bed for a day and a half. She fell asleep that Friday night for the last time. In the blink of an eye, Dwight lost the love of his life. His beautiful, vibrant wife was gone. It was August 7, 2021. They were only one week shy of their 17th wedding anniversary.
“I’m going through something my parents haven’t even gone through yet,” he realized, standing in the funeral home trying to make the final arrangements. It was so sudden. She wasn’t sick when she left for Maryland. He wondered how it could feel like everything happened so fast, yet also feel like time had completely stopped. His mind wandered back to their first kiss. It was as clear a memory as if it happened just days ago.
The date was June 21, 2003, and they were at the Veterans Stadium watching the Phillies play the Red Sox. The Phillies were down two to one at the bottom of the eighth when Jim Thome hit a home run and tied the game. Everyone in the stadium jumped to their feet and cheered. In the excitement of the moment, Dwight kissed Nancy for the first time.
Fast forward three months to September 21, when they were at another Phillies game. Once again, Jim Thome hit another home run and the crowd screamed with joy. “A sign that it was meant to be,” Dwight thought eagerly, as he pulled a small jewelry box out of his pocket. He opened it, and Nancy gazed at the beautiful ring in astonishment. At that moment, he asked her to marry him, and simultaneously smiling and crying, she said, “Yes.”
In the 17 years that followed, they started a family, bought a home, and began planning their children’s education. They both wanted Paige and Chase to attend Catholic school — to benefit from the smaller classes, rigorous education, and Christian values imparted through the curriculum. They looked for a parish with a school but were dismayed at how many of the schools were closing. Then Nancy heard that Paige’s best friend had been accepted at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). The minute the school opened on Monday, Nancy was there, ready to fill out a kindergarten application for Paige.
She and Dwight discovered that the school and parish were exactly what they were looking for: an extended home, a loving community.
It didn’t take long for Nancy to get involved at the school, serving as a Homeroom parent and on a variety of committees. She implemented Read-A-Thon, a fundraiser that would help the classrooms get up-to-date technology, and she later became the co-president of the Home and School Association (HSA). Nancy also served as the HSA liaison for the Cool the School campaign to provide money for air conditioning in the school. And she did all of that while working full time.
Nancy wasn’t just a familiar face at IHM, she was a good leader who encouraged the people she worked with. In quiet moments, you can still hear her favorite phrase, “We can do this,” reverberating through the corridors. She loved the school and the school loved her.
Their love extended far beyond any words of comfort they could now give to a grieving family. For Nancy’s funeral, the family requested donations to the Cool the School campaign in lieu of flowers. The principal of IHM, Tina Marroni, loved the idea and urged them to also accept donations for a tuition fund for Paige and Chase. It took a while, but she eventually won them over.
Unbeknownst to Dwight, the IHM school and parish immediately started collaborating to support his family. After learning about Nancy’s death, Tina called Sheila O’Hagan McGirl, the Director of Development for the Wilmington Diocese to see if they could get any financial aid for Paige and Chase’s tuition. She knew that most of the Share in the Spirit funds would have already been distributed, but she had to try. When she heard Sheila’s friendly voice on the other end of the phone, she explained the situation and asked if there was any money remaining in the tuition fund. Sheila responded without hesitation, “We will find some money.”
Tina’s next call was to Winnie at Rush Uniform. “Winnie, you know how you’re always telling me to let you know if we need anything? Well, we have a tragedy, and we have a need.” After hearing the family’s plight, Winnie’s response was just as instant as Sheila’s, “Absolutely. Let me know what sizes they need, and I’ll place the order.”
At the same time, one of the parents set up a meal train. In a matter of hours, every space was filled. So they added a few more weeks. When those weeks were filled, they added more. The end result was a meal train that ran full speed ahead from mid-August through October. Every other night Dwight and the kids received a dinner given lovingly by families within the IHM school and parish. Some people brought the meals to their home, others had pizza or Grub Hub delivered, and still others sent restaurant gift cards.
Family members, the IHM community, and businesses donated to the tuition fund. Some, like Randstad Sourceright (the company for which Nancy worked), contacted Dwight directly to assist with immediate needs. Even people who were total strangers to Nancy — like Tina’s sister in Southern Delaware — were moved by what they heard and joined in.
Between the donations and Share in the Spirit, Paige and Chase had their tuition covered for the year. Tina was amazed at the response. “It was the embodiment of what we teach the children every day,” she exclaims. “I witnessed it in action.” Dwight was just as stunned as Tina. “Everybody reached out — circled around us — to help us,” he confirms. And he still breathes a sigh of relief knowing his children weren’t displaced into a new school.
“Everyone at the school knew what happened,” he states. “They knew the kids. They knew Nancy. We didn’t have to go on explaining it over again or have the kids end up in public school where they could fall through the cracks.”
Just as important, Tina, the teachers, assistants, staff, and Aftercare Director kept their eyes on Paige and Chase throughout the year. “Even the ladies that ran the cafeteria and snack window had an extra eye, an extra hug, watching to ensure that things were going smoothly,” Tina says. She still can’t talk about Nancy without fighting back the tears.
She helped Dwight with the paperwork for the following school year, and because of that, Share in the Spirit was able to contribute more funds for the children’s tuition this year.
The family continues their journey of healing. “It’s so hard,” Dwight remarks quietly – and then looks away. But the selfless, Catholic community of IHM, and the countless people and businesses that donated to the tuition fund and Share in the Spirit, have lessened the burden.
When you give to Share in the Spirit, you not only help create a loving Catholic community that rushes in to help when tragedy strikes, you become part of one. You help families in their greatest time of need. You become the Good Samaritan. And you unleash the power of God’s Spirit and Mercy into the world. Could there be a better way to help?
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To honor Nancy and her memory, the IHM community held another Read-A-Thon, doubling their efforts to make it successful. As a rallying cry for Nancy, they raised more than $60k for the Cool the School campaign. At the time of this article, air conditioning is being installed.