Williamsburg parish youths rally for late friend’s family

From left, Aaron Zuber, Austin Hilligas, Caitlin Osweiler, Kiley Finnegan, Adam MacDonald and Lindsey Spratt of St. Mary Parish in Williamsburg celebrate their victory at a Feb. 8 dodge ball tournament in Williamsburg High School. The tournament was held to benefit the family of Jessica Stallman.

By Celine Klosterman

WILLIAMSBURG — Those who knew Jessica Stallman say she was a fun-loving, lively teen, so friends raised money for her family with an event they hope she would’ve liked — a dodge ball tournament.

Youths from St. Mary Parish in Williamsburg raised $667 for Craig and Kathy Stallman, parents of Jessica, who died Jan. 12 after battling HLH, a rare immune-system disorder. She was 14.

“We just wanted to help out her family because we were all close with her,” said Caitlin Osweiler, 14. She is a St. Mary parishioner who attended Williamsburg High School with Jessica, a Christian who loved volleyball and horseback riding on her family’s farm.

“She was really fun to be around, really nice,” said St. Mary parishioner Aaron Zuber, 16, who met Jessica in preschool.

But her bubbly disposition was challenged late last year, when she suddenly started suffering from persistent fever symptoms. Doctors at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City eventually diagnosed her with HLH. The disease affected Jessica’s tonsils, which were thus removed, and then attacked her liver, said Julie Zuber. She is a friend of the Stallmans and a youth leader at St. Mary’s.

Jessica stayed in an intensive care unit for two months before she passed away. 

“I know from personal experience what you go through when you have someone in the hospital like that,” said Diana Roberts, St. Mary’s coordinator of religious education, who’s lost two nephews. “It’s more than just medical expenses you have to worry about.” There are food and travel costs – besides the emotional toll.

“In a small community, your heart just goes out to somebody in that situation,” said Julie Zuber.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Williamsburg hosted a benefit auction and soup lunch Jan. 31 for the Stallmans. St. Mary’s youth group — which Julie Zuber said is newly active this year — wanted to do more.

“Our school usually has dodge ball tournaments, so we thought we could do one, too,” said Osweiler. Eleven teams of area youths each paid $30 to take part in the event at Williamsburg High School Feb. 8, and many people donated money.

In the end, St. Mary’s “Team Baxter” took the trophy. But that honor was secondary.

Said Julie Zuber, “It was amazing to see how many people came out to support (the Stallmans).”

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