Through tribulation comes compassion with a young man leading as the example. It has been just over one year since the tragic death of Wheelersburg Senior and friend to all Ethan Pauley. However, in that time, the community has pulled together, and the good done in his memory gives some purpose and comfort to those dealing with the loss.
Pauley’s mom Stephanie Pauley, of Wheelersburg, explained that Ethan was a person that was “into everything” and a friend to all. With father Jim, the family started out in a small town in Michigan. When moving to the region, they first moved to Huntington, West Virginia.
Stephanie says that her son had a bit of a hard time there. He struggled with the more metropolitan area and worried about hanging around with people that would get him in trouble. Then, when the family moved to Wheelersburg, returning to a small town, Ethan was able to thrive.
“He was involved in soccer,” Stephanie commented. “That’s what he really looked to when he was in Huntington going through a hard time. He put his passion into soccer, and that continued until we came to ‘Burg. There, that’s how he made friends.”
Ethan started in soccer in the youth soccer league and continued playing through high school, starting all four years. Soccer gave him a way to build relationships with others and not only with his teammates. Stephanie explained that Ethan made friends with people around the district, many of which say that he taught them how to play.
“Because he had that compassion of going through what he went through living in Huntington, he was able to really understand what other people were going through, especially new people,” Stephanie explained.
She said that several people have told her that when they started at Wheelersburg for the first time, Ethan’s name was the first they knew.
“He understood what it was to be a new kid in town, and he wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable,” the mother said about her son. “His friendships and his relationships with people were a huge part of who he was. It was very important to him.”
Ethan seemed to have a bright future in front of him. He was doing well in school, exceeding on the field and a loved young man. His sudden death devastated an entire community.
It was a late January day, and the county had been hit with a snowstorm. With roads slick from the wintry weather, Stephanie had gotten off work early. When she arrived home, Ethan was there, where he had spent the day helping with firewood.
“We were going to put the wood burner on and hunker down. Of course, Ethan wanted to go sledding. He missed the snow in Michigan, and he talked about it quite often. So, he wanted to go sledding with his friends,” Stephanie explained.
Beyond the normal reasons for a mother to be concerned, Stephanie said that about a month prior she had a dream that something bad was going to happen. It kind of stuck with her and made her a little more concerned about her young son. Still, he left with friends to go sledding. Ethan’s mom checked in with him several times throughout the day. As evening approached, Stephanie called her son to see what his plans would be for the night. Ethan told her that he would have no way home until the next day unless he had a friend take him on an ATV. Assuming he would just stay the night, Stephanie felt comfortable.
Instead, Ethan and some friends decided they would go to the school to go sledding. There was one sled that was being pulled by an ATV. Stephanie says that the boys tested the sled, which carried Ethan and a friend, on a side road before heading into town.
“They stopped at the light because it was red (at the intersection of Center and Gallia Pike in Wheelersburg). And then when it turned green, they looked both ways, proceeded out and that is when the truck came and hit him and killed him instantly,” Stephanie explained about her son’s death.
Since the loss of Ethan, Stephanie says she has seen an overwhelming outpouring of kindness.
“The community continues to be very supportive, continuing to do things in Ethan’s memory, and they’re always checking in on us.” Stephanie stated. “I’ve never seen support like this. The community is great with that, but with Ethan it was like everything and everybody stopped to help. They call him the boy who brought the Tri-State together.”
With all the community support, the Pauley family did not have to pay for any of the funeral arrangements including the burial or the headstone. All of this was paid for with donations. People have also brought food, household items and even jewelry. Stephanie explained that she has so many memory necklaces that she tries to wear a different one everyday.
In order to give back some of the warmth the community shared with her during a very cold time in her life and in following the example of kindness to all set by her son, Stephanie decided to establish EP7.
“EP7 is a youth outreach 501c3 non-profit that serves the community in a variety of ways through the Graceful Healing Support Groups we hold in partnership with Spirit of Hope Counseling, LLC, the Ethan C. Pauley Memorial Scholarships which assists in college costs for chosen applicants and a trade scholarship, which covers costs of tools/equipment at the Scioto County CTC,” Stephanie explained. “We also will be holding the Graceful Healing Grief Camp here at our farm in the fall, free to kids who have suffered the loss of a loved one. We also are working on an encouragement card and memory box ministry for youth.”
In 2016, the Ethan C. Pauley Memorial Scholarship provided college funding to six students with a total of $3,500. One was a $1,000 scholarship, and the others were each worth $500. The skilled trade scholarship will be starting this year.
Stephanie added those initiatives dealing with grief and loss after seeing the difficult time that Ethan’s classmates had. She explained that it is a service that is needed in the area as there are many children dealing with the loss of classmates due to suicide, car wrecks, drugs and other causes of death. The grief camp is held at the Pauley farm where children can work through grief with the animals.
“We are not counselors,” Stephanie stressed.
However, EP7 does partner with counselor to offer support groups and grief education.
“It was a need we saw after Ethan’s death with some of his friends,” Stephanie stated. “There weren’t enough services or resources to address what they were going through, and I see that a lot in the community. We definitely need some more resources to help people deal with that.”
Funding for EP7 comes from fundraisers held throughout the year including the EP7 Futsal Tournament, the EP7 Memorial Cruise-In, and the EP7 Fishing Tourney (still upcoming). All fundraisers are planned and organized by the EP7 board, which is made up of several college students that were Ethan’s friends and classmates. Many of the volunteers are also Ethan’s friends and even high school kids.
This is just one example of how his classmates have continued his memory and the support of his family. Marking the one year anniversary since his death, Ethan’s classmates worked with Wheelersburg Elementary School teacher Dawn Horsley in making Stephanie a quilt covered in their hand prints and in caring messages. It is these things – the hard work and love she sees daily and the ability to help others – that keeps Stephanie going.
“Having a tragedy like this in your life, there are two ways you can go. You can crawl deep down in a hole and stay there, and I’ve seen people do that. Or, you can get out there and try to do things in your loved one’s memory, doing good for others. That’s what helps me,” Stephanie stated before adding, “It is a blessing to be a part of such a kind and supportive community. They’ve done so much for our family and we hope to give back all we that we can.”
Though Ethan has been gone more than one year, his impact is ongoing. Additional information about the EP7 Youth Outreach programs can be found by visiting the group’s Facebook page, which also offers information about all upcoming events, the Ethan C. Pauley scholarship programs and how to continue giving in Ethan’s name.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.