EDGAR — On a weekend where the community of Edgar gathers each year to embrace its farm community roots and lifestyle, a fundraiser for a local couple seemed the perfect addition to punctuate just how close-knit this small town of 451 people truly is.
Edgarfest 2019 had all its usual charms in place Saturday: bouncy houses (one with a water slide element), barbecues, miniature golf, pool party, parade, and fireworks. But what proved a most fitting addition this year was the free-will benefit lunch at the community center to help cover the cost of medical expenses of Edgar area residents Clark and Deb Stertz.
Hosted by the Edgar Lions Club, the benefit included opportunity for matching funds from the Lions’ state and district chapters.
Edgar Lions Club President Joe McReynolds has been a personal friend of the Stertz family for years. To him, the idea of donating the Lions’ annual Edgarfest food booth earnings to assist them seemed uniquely appropriate for the community event.
The couple has been dealing with overwhelming challenges of varying sorts for decades, including the loss of their home and multiple life-threatening health issues.
“They’ve never been ones to ask for help, but we wanted to help,” McReynolds said. “People just come together, like any small town would do.”
An article in the local Clay County newspaper inspired the Lions to earmark their concession earnings this year to help defer some of the mounting medical expenses the couple continues to deal with as it battles its latest health challenges. But for that article, McReynolds said, most of their neighbors probably wouldn’t have even have known how dire their situation truly is.
“The Stertz family isn’t one to go out and ask for help,” he said. “Before people saw their story, they didn’t realize all they’ve been through. They didn’t go out looking for help, (but) people just helped them. And that’s great.”
For Clark, 63, his health saga began in 1975, when he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Following several rounds of home dialysis treatments, he receive a kidney and pancreas transplant in October 1997 that brought his juvenile diabetes under control, but not before leading to other health complications that included losing sight in his left eye and nearly surrendering his vision altogether. In 2013, he was diagnosed with skin cancer on the right side of his face and required surgery to remove and replace the skin around his cheek with muscle and skin from his thigh.
Though his replacement pancreas has held up, the replacement kidney recently failed after 19 years, necessitating a second transplant in March for the longtime farmer/cattleman.
He has since sold his cattle operation and relies on help from neighbors and family to plant crops and operate the combine. Yet he still manages to bale his own hay — something he hopes to continue if possible with his replacement kidney.
“I rake and bale,” he said. “I still think I’m a pretty good damn baler!”
After caring for Clark through his many health challenges, Deborah, 60, learned in 2014 that she had contracted stage 4 anaplastic thyroid cancer, a rare form of cancer that has been sapping most of her energy since. Yet for all her ongoing treatments, which include daily radiation treatments in Kearney and weekly rounds of chemotherapy, neither she nor Clark has allowed their ongoing health issues to put a damper on their upbeat dispositions.
“Just stay happy!” Clark said. “You’ve got to be happy in this life, no matter what is thrown at you. You have to be happy and joke around.”
And not just for themselves.
“If you can be happy and keep a smile on your face, then it makes every situation a little easier to get through and helps other people who are worried about you not worry as much,” Deborah said.
Health issues only tell part of the family’s tragic story. A lightning storm burnt their home north of Edgar to the ground in 1986. And while neither feels cursed or singled out by the series of sad circumstances that have followed, Deborah said she would certainly welcome some sort of resolve to their plight in the not-too-distant future.
“It’s not, ‘Why us?’ because that’s kind of selfish,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are in the same shoes we’re in. Everybody does their own dance with what they’re dealt. With everything he (Clark) has gone through, it’s like, ‘When is it gonna stop?’ That’s what I want to know.”
Both say they are humbled by the outpouring of support from the Edgar community through its participation in the luncheon fundraiser. Deborah credits the grace of God and support of their two daughters, three grandchildren, and countless friends for enabling them to maintain a positive outlook through it all.
“If you don’t have God in your life, you’re missing a whole lot of life,” she said. “That’s what puts a smile on my face. I couldn’t get through this without Him.”
Patrice Hoffman and her husband, Rick, a Lions Club member, reside east of Edgar. Patrice, who is retired from teaching after 36 years in the Sandy Creek school system, is a longtime friend and a former classmate of Clark’s from kindergarten.
“I feel wonderful that we as a community want to help them in their time of need,” she said. “They are a very hard-working couple and always the kind of people who would help others.”
Insurance salesman Adam Engel, 29, of Fairfield said he was heartened by the turnout for both the festival and fundraiser.
“It’s been really good,” he said. “We’re having a good time. There are a lot of fun things to do for the kids, and I think it’s good for small communities like this to get together.”
Outdoors behind the community center, Hunter Cox, 16, of Edgar was putting around the miniature golf course as temperatures climbed above 90 degrees. With his parents, Melody and James, and three brothers also engaged in Edgarfest events around town, he said the event has long been a family tradition, one he looks forward to each year.
“Everybody comes together and just has a good time,” he said. “I like to hang out and play all the games and enjoy everything. I’ll probably just hang out here and enjoy all the bouncy houses and mini golf, then go to the parade tonight. Then there’s a swim and fireworks.”