KANEVILLE—Nearly 400 people came to Sunday’s Help Becky Bounce Back Benefit, with people packing the Kaneville Community Center’s gym to make frantic last-minute bids in the silent auction and then spilling outside to bid on live auction items.
And when the crowd melted away, Anne Carson sat down to tally how much had been raised to help pay the medical bills of her niece, Becky Nelson, the Maple Park native who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a hit-and-run accident in the Cayman Islands on July 1.
Becky, who had no health insurance, was in a coma for five weeks and will need two years of rehabilitative therapies as she relearns how to walk, dress herself and recover other daily functions. Medicaid will cover only 80 percent of her medical bills, leaving her and her family to pay the rest.
No one knew how much to expect—but the $24,000 raised exceeded all expectations.
“We were overwhelmed by how generous everyone was,” Carson said.
When Elburn resident Audry Buchanan, one of the organizers, heard the total from Carson, she pulled her car over to the side of the road and cried.
“Oh my God, I cried,” Buchanan said. “I was driving to Chicago, and I stopped en route and cried. $24,000? I was screaming in my car. I could not believe it, not in my wildest dreams. And I thought, ‘What a tribute to small towns.’”
The hottest auction item was a pair of front-row seats for the upcoming Nov. 11 Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers game, which went for $1,000 to Pete Peterson and Reece Bend, both from Shabbona, Ill. The two friends joked that they’d better get some Bulls jerseys before the game.
Yet they were just two of the many who bid on and bought 72 silent auction items, 18 live auction items and 33 bucket raffle items.
John and Darcy Weidner made the winning bids on two pies made by Mary Pritchard, the wife of Illinois State Representative Bob Pritchard. The Weidners, who own a farm in Virgil and have known the Nelson family for over 35 years, paid $120 per pie.
“We don’t want people thinking we’re rich or hoity-toity,” Darcy said. “(The Nelsons) are good farming family friends of ours. We came with an amount in mind to donate, and we bought something, that’s all.”
That spirit of community pervaded the event, something that thrilled Peggy Nelson, Becky’s mother.
“It’s been awesome,” Peggy said. “There was a huge turnout and a lot of support for Becky from friends, from family, from the community. We’ve had awesome people donating items, and it really helped to bring in people. And it’s just great to see this work being done for Becky.”
Though Becky has a long recovery ahead of her, Peggy said that she is making steady progress. A cranioplasty is scheduled for Oct. 31 to put a plate in her head, which will replace a section of skull removed during an earlier surgery. Once the plate is in, Becky will no longer have to wear a protective helmet.
“She has good days and bad days, but she continues to improve all the time,” Peggy said. “She’s talking more clearly. Before, it was hard to understand her, but she’s trying hard to articulate. And her sense of humor is still there. She makes little comments to me. The other day, I said, ‘I’m sorry, Becky, I couldn’t understand you.’ And she joked, ‘Mommy, focus!’ That’s the teacher in Becky that we know and love.”
Since Becky is a preschool teacher and once worked at the Kaneville Community Childcare Center, the family-friendly fundraiser featured games and crafts for kids.
Dozens of people volunteered their services, including DJ Ricky Nilsen, a Kaneland High School classmate of Becky’s who helped emcee the event; Josiah Jones, who performed his juggling act; Bruce Sims of Long Eared Livery Service, who provided mule-drawn wagon rides; Steve Almburg of Almburg Auctions in Malta, Ill., who conducted the live auction; Hill’s Country Store in Kaneville, which sold food and donated 10 percent of the proceeds; and Paisano’s Pizza in Elburn, which donated pizzas.
Nilsen said that he’d heard about Becky’s plight through Facebook and wanted to do something.
“Everyone needs to get together to do something. It’s how I feel about Kaneland as a whole. You need to do something as a community,” he said.
Elburn resident Lauren Steers, a seventh- grader at Harter Middle School, helped run the slingshot game and was among many young people who volunteered at the event. Though Steers had never met any of the Nelsons, she heard about the benefit from her mother, Nancy, and offered to come.
“I just felt like doing something for the community,” Lauren said. “So my mom and my brother and I, we all came. You get volunteer hours (at school) for it.”
Support for Becky also came in the form of bracelets from Taylor Schmidt, a 9-year-old girl from Aurora. Schmidt, whose mother works at Old Second Bank in Elburn with Peggy, made blue-and-white rubber band bracelets—“The blue is for the ocean”—and plans to give one to Becky once her doctors allow her to wear jewelry again.
Kaneville Village President Pat Hill, who has been selling fundraising bracelets and collecting donations at her store, said she was pleased with the community’s response.
“I’m very happy with the turnout,” Hill said. “The gym was packed. They’ve been coming and going. Becky’s a sweet girl, and she deserves our help. We’d all want someone to do the same for us. We take care of each other.”
Additional fundraisers may be planned, Buchanan said, because Becky’s medical bills will continue to rise. The next event is on Nov. 10 at Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill at 117 N. Main St. in Elburn. The restaurant—a new eatery from Dick and Annette Theobald, the owners of Paisano’s—will donate 10 percent of the day’s sales to the fundraising effort and will host a 50/50 raffle.
To follow the continuing fundraising effort and get updates on Becky’s progress, like the Help Becky Bounce Back page on Facebook.
“All you can say is thank you,” Peggy said. “It’s wonderful to see how much everybody loves Becky.”
Photos by Patti Wilk