Guest Column - December 23

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!  This week, for the first and only time this year, I will not be talking politics.  I think in 2016 we’ve had our fill.  And as I said in the Christmas column, don’t spend the Holidays arguing politics with family!

First, for those of you who don’t know already, one of my predecessors passed away on December 18th.  Ron Lawfer was an incredible advocate for farming and Northwest Illinois.  He was, even more impressively, a terrific husband to his wife Patricia and a tremendous father, grandfather, and great grandfather.  Ron established a Representative legacy that will always leave an indelible mark on Northwest Illinois, but undoubtedly his greatest accomplishment was his wonderful family.  I had the honor of attending his memorial service, and I can’t begin to tell you how moving the service was.  Ron truly will be missed.

I want to give special recognition to the military personnel, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency personnel, and hospital workers who need to work through the Holidays so that we can all stay safe, healthy, and happy.  I also would like to thank the Postal, UPS and FedEx workers who have been toiling long hours day after day to ensure that every Christmas package arrives on time.  And I would like to thank all of the workers in my companies and in the many others in the 89th District that are working through the Holidays.

And speaking of those who spend the Holidays serving the community, I came across a story from Reader’s Digest that I wanted to end my column with this week.  It’s a reminder of the power of giving and the power of a strong community.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Lt. Bobby Qualls was shopping when he received a text message: Fire on Beechmont, one-story house, child trapped inside.  “I was picking out gifts for the family our engine house adopted for Christmas,” remembers Qualls, who has been fighting fires in Memphis for 24 years.  “I had this sinking feeling as I got in my car and headed over.”

The last time Qualls had been on Beechmont Street was to install smoke detectors at the Bateman-Tubbs home.  He’d been on a secret mission to see if they needed an extra boost during the holidays.  There he discovered that the four Bateman-Tubbs children were sleeping on bare mattresses, and he found two of the boys playing outside in 30-degree weather with no shoes or coats.

Qualls learned that Leonard Tubbs was doing his best to make ends meet laying floors while Kimberly Bateman stayed home with the kids.  “When Bobby told me his team wanted to be Secret Santas and buy my kids toys, at first I thought we didn’t need any help,” Bateman recalls.  “It really touched me.  I told him what the kids really needed was warm clothes.”

That’s exactly what Qualls was shopping for on December 9, 2008: winter jackets for Christopher, seven; JoJo, four; Madison, one; and two-month-old Charles.  While driving over to Beechmont Street, he dialed Bateman’s cell phone.  She answered on the first ring, screaming, “The house is on fire—JoJo’s trapped inside!”

By the time Qualls reached the house, the family had gotten out, but their home was severely damaged.  His coworkers had found JoJo hiding under a pile of clothes in a back bedroom.  He had stopped breathing and had been given CPR and rushed to the hospital.  Qualls learned that JoJo was now on life support and might not make it through the night.  He rushed to the hospital with Lt. Mark Eskew, who placed a stuffed teddy bear in a firefighter’s suit on JoJo’s bed.

“I just kept praying my little boy would open his eyes,” Bateman recalls.  “There was nothing else I could do.  They were pumping soot as black and thick as tar out of his lungs and stomach for days.”  After a few days, though, JoJo regained consciousness, and the tubes were taken out of his throat.

While he began to slowly recover, the local newspaper and TV stations got hold of the story, and the Secret Santa mission of Qualls and his fellow firefighters snowballed.  Before long, the fire station was overflowing with boxes of toys, food, toiletries, towels, and clothes. People called, wanting to donate furniture and appliances too.

By December 23, Bateman and Tubbs had moved their kids into a new rental home.  By Christmas Eve, JoJo was ready to leave the hospital, and the firefighters were ready to deliver the family their very own Christmas miracle.

“These guys aren’t just firefighters,” says Bateman, “they’re our guardian angels. If they hadn’t installed a smoke detector that first day they came to our house, we wouldn’t have known when the fire started.  Then they went the extra ten miles to give us a Christmas.”

It’s never too late to help those who are less fortunate.  Please remember as we head into the New Year that there are always people in need, and there is always something we can do to help.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.