As many of you know, I am the County Liaison for Caswell County Farm Bureau. When I started this position four years ago, I had the honor of meeting many wonderful people that I now call friends. Including a beautiful family that I love as my own.
The Vernon family is well known and respected in Caswell County. They have a multi-generational tobacco and cattle farm on Yarbroughs Mill Road in Milton. I’m sure I do not have to tell anyone within earshot of Caswell County how hard and time consuming farming is. However, Hester Vernon, his sons Steve Vernon (passed in 2019) and William Vernon as well as Williams son Henry Vernon all volunteer as fire fighters for The Semora Fire Department. This family is built on the God first, family second and community a close second mindset.
Since 1995, Hester Vernon has been the President of Caswell County Farm Bureau. William and his wife Tina also served on the Board of Director’s. Tina was especially proud of the work on the state and local Women’s Committee and her job at Southern States but February 15th, 2018, life was forever changed for the Vernon family. After a two-year battle, Tina passed away from a rare and little known about disease, Autoimmune Encephalitis.
At the age of 12, their son Henry and 10-year-old daughter Little Linda watched as their mother was laid to rest. This would be hard for anyone, as their Dad knew all too well. William had lost his mother at an early age too. So how do you help them cope with their loss and the anger such a loss can create? You give them something to be actively involved in that continues their mother’s legacy and gives them an avenue to show honor to her and her memory.
This is where I came into the story. As County Liaison for Caswell County Farm Bureau, I found books and soda tabs in piles. After asking about them, I learned the books were Ag In The Classroom books purchased for all four Caswell County elementary schools and the Gunn Memorial Public Library and the tabs were collected for The Ronald McDonald House. Two programs Tina had started as the Women’s Committee Chair. I thought it was only fitting that her children finished the work their mother had started. Taking the idea to the board and watching as it took a life of its own was my conformation I had found where I belonged. The board voted to continue both programs and allow her children to represent the work ethics and community dedication their family has instilled in them by example.
Over the last three years, Little Linda has donated 144 Ag In The Classroom books with corresponding curriculums while explaining to her peers that their food doesn’t come from the grocery store, it comes from a farm. Henry has donated 100’s of pounds of Tina’s Tabs to Ronald McDonald.
However, this year he gave to a local young man who he attends church with, Tommy Adams. Tommy has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Which is a group of inherited disorders that affect the connective tissues – primarily the skin, joints and blood vessel walls. Tommy’s condition is more severe having affected his digestive system. It has been more than three years since Tommy has been able to eat or drink anything. As you can imagine, he and his mother Kelly have spent more time in hospitals than anyone should have to. Kelly is quick to tell you that without Ronald McDonald House, she doesn’t know what she would have done. You get up in the morning; they have coffee to get you going. They prepare breakfast to make sure you get at least one meal in because when you have a child in the hospital, depending on the events of that day, you may or may not think to eat. They pack bag lunches for you to take with you to the hospital and after an endless day of test and procedures you get to go back to your own room, get a hot bath, rest and have a home cooked meal. Does it take away the worry or the weight of the world? No! However, the little things they offer are the very things we take for granted. Having these things allow you to have some sense of normalcy, especially when you have other children.
To see Tommy you would never know he was sick except for the tubes, Kelly says. He’s a good looking young man with a charming smile, who enjoys helping others. Tommy has aged out of the Ronald McDonald House. However, he and his mother Kelly continue to collect tabs and volunteer when they can. Tommy will never age out of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome; in fact he went in last week for another treatment. With the heat, Tommy was not able to come with his mother to meet with Henry, as Tommy’s body is unable to cool or heat itself. However, the minute Kelly got out of her van, she was amazed at how grown Henry has gotten and was quick to tell Henry that Tommy remembered riding the bus with him on a church trip. Henry just smiled.
In my fifty years on this earth, one thing continues to prove true; life is not about the things you collect. It is all about the memories you make and the love you pass along.