Sparhawk: Saying goodbye to everyone’s friend


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Photo by Lisa Dayley Smith, Standard Journal

Something happened the other day that I had never seen before in Rexburg. There were hundreds of cars causing a minor traffic jam around the McDonald’s restaurant on the south end of town. People and cars were everywhere, and even the city police had come to keep the traffic flowing.

The line was very long as we pulled our car into line. I could tell it was going to be a very long wait. The line snaked around and was actually out onto the Yellowstone Highway when we arrived.

Like most good things that happen in my life, it was my wife Marsha’s idea to have dinner there that night. We had heard that the owners of the restaurant were donating all sales that day to the Striffler family, who were facing a great trial.

I wished the family could have seen this outpouring of love for them. At the same time we were sitting in line, downtown at the local mortuary family and friends were gathered to pay their last respects to Kathy Striffler, who had been killed in a traffic accident in Montana. The father, Henry, and daughter, Jessica, were there greeting people. Henry and Kathy’s son, Glenn, was recovering from the accident in a hospital in Billings, Mont.

After waiting a few minutes in line, I said, “Maybe, we should go somewhere else?”

“No,” my wife insisted. “I want to stay here.”

She was right, of course. We waited in line for more than an hour that memorable evening. At first I was impatient, thinking I don’t have time for this.

My wife said, “We can just visit. What happened at work today?”

So we visited and the time passed quickly. We watched as people came and went with their drinks and bags of hamburgers. I noticed many young families with children, and hoped that these children would always remember this moment when the community came together for a family in need.

The Striffler family came to Rexburg nearly 30 years ago. For a few years when Jessica was a teenager, the family lived just around the corner from us.

As to the things of this world, they had little. When they first moved to our neighborhood, they didn’t have a car and they walked around town, carrying bags from the store to their home.

After noticing this, we began to give them rides. And so we struck up a friendship that lasted for years. The family eventually bought a van and became more self-sufficient. And after a few years, they moved across town and we didn’t see them very often.

Kathy worked for the school district, where she was a crossing guard at one school and served lunch across town at another school. Marsha kept in touch with Jessica, who graduated from Madison High School and went on to graduate from the University of Idaho.

As we sat in line waiting for our food, I asked, “Do you think all these people knew Kathy?”

“You’d be surprised,” Marsha said. “She knew a lot of people.”

“What was it about her?” I asked.

“She was happy and she loved people,” Marsha said.

That was it! Love. It’s very simple and Kathy had discovered this truth early in her life. According to her sister, she had loved people ever since she was a child.

Kathy had mastered the commandment that the Savior once taught, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Our community was blessed to have Kathy and her family come to live with us. While she was here, she showed us how to love one another by her own example.

The back of her funeral program said it all: “Kathy knew no strangers, for to her everyone was family.”

With Kathy’s death, the family is planning to leave Rexburg. They will be moving to northern Idaho, where Jessica lives and works. Today, Jessica lives in Moscow and works at the library at nearby Washington State University in Pullman.

We will miss the Striffler family. As few things in life happen by chance, I believe God brought these good people to our community for a reason. A sweet woman with a big heart, Kathy showed us all a better way to live.

This column was originally published in the Upper Valley Standard Journal. It is used here with permission.