“Let’s make war, a bidding war,” encouraged the master of ceremonies at the benefit auction that raised more than $26,000 for Jenkins Middle School principal Jon M. Symonds, who even shares his initials with the school he wants to get back to as soon as possible after a snowmobile accident left him paralyzed from the waist down on Christmas Day.
The MC, KREM2 News Reporter Othello Richards, covered a story on Symonds that aired the day before the April 13 auction to promote the fundraiser hosted by Chewelah School District staff, which attracted more than 250 people from in and outside the community.
“I spent two and a half hours with Jon and I can see why the community loves him,” Richards said.
Symonds is still in recovery and intensive therapy but, after three months in the hospital, he is now back home in Chewelah and was able to attend his own benefit, staying until most everyone had left.
“It was awesome,” Symonds said. “It was so good to get out.”
“It felt wonderful that so many people came to support me,” he added.
He said the money will definitely make a difference to help pay for all the expenses that have been incurred including the cost of various specialized equipment like a power wheelchair and new van plus a newly renovated bathroom.
Symonds arrived at the event as a surprise for everyone after the live auction had begun following a thank you message Richards recorded in case he could not be there. In his message, Symonds mentioned how much he has appreciated the loyalty of the community and the people who have supported him to help get him through this difficult journey.
Superintendent Rick Linehan said the amount of support he has seen for Symonds has been overwhelming.
“I am amazed in my three years anytime something tragic happens, this community steps up,” Linehan said.
Richards has also noticed the selflessness of the community.
“I am amazed at the Inland Northwest area for people are so willing to open their pocketbooks and help out others,” he said. “Chewelah is no different.”
District Nurse Kathy Wellman and Gess Principal Jerry Pugh helped organize the benefit event that featured a live and silent auction. Quilt raffle tickets and Sandy Sulgrove’s Stromboli sandwiches were sold throughout the evening as well.
Wellman said many people wanted to help Symonds after the accident but did not know how so this was something the staff was able to do for him, especially knowing how Chewelah comes together in a time like this.
“The community is what community is, a giving and caring community is the foundation for it all,” Pugh said. “Jon is a great guy. He is sensitive, unpretentious, humble, a service-minded big teddy bear. Those two things came together for a great event.”
Several generous donors including many from the Chewelah and Bridgeport communities donated items for the auctions as Symonds has been part of both communities for years. Steve Mitzner, a JHS graduate, returned to Chewelah as the auctioneer and has been seen at many Chewelah benefit auctions throughout the year.
The quilt raffle alone brought in over $1,000 in $1 tickets. There were 13 prizes available in the raffle including the quilt made by Symonds’ mother, which was won by Casey McKern of Kettle Falls. McKern was paralyzed in a diving accident in 2008 and came to the event having never met Symonds but wanted to help him through the Pay It Forward charity he created after his community was so generous when he was injured.
“(Symonds) is obviously a great guy,” McKern said. “I am glad I got to meet him.”
Symonds is working hard to get well to be able to get back to work before the end of the school year and even met with district administrators at his home to be a part of the planning process for consolidating the middle and high school at the Jenkins High School campus.
“It felt great to be back as part of the team,” Symonds said.
Richards said Symonds told him he started the year with these kids and wants to finish it with them.
“He really cares about his students,” he said. “He is motivated by these kids to get well.”
“I am hoping and praying I will be back,” Symonds said.
Symonds’ positivity constantly shines through as he deals with this new life-changing event while in the spotlight.
“Being negative is not going to get me anywhere,” he said. “…I hope this can motivate people and show that you can overcome disability and still live a productive life.”
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Jenkins Middle School principal Jon Symonds talks with Casey McKern while 3-year-old Kendall Miller sits on his lap at the fundraiser auction organized for Symonds on April 13. Jared Arnold photo