By ANGIE FENTON
Even if they don’t ask, Matthew Badger knows the question most people are thinking: How does a father move on after losing all three of his young daughters and their grandparents in a fire on Christmas Day?
The answer, at least today, is you don’t. There is no moving on, there is only moving forward.
“The loss of my children was the loss of being a father, and I lost the very most beautiful treasures in my life and the very thing I thought was the best part of me,” Badger said of Lily, 9, and twins Sarah and Grace, both 7, who died in their mother’s Stamford, Connecticut, home on Dec. 25, 2011, along with their grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson, longtime Louisville residents.
When the reality of what had transpired sank in, Badger crashed to “a place where I was in tremendous anger and frustration. I was suicidal and homicidal, and I was at the bottom of my life’s experience.”
But the devastated dad couldn’t give up. “(There was) this image of how to keep loving my kids and giving them a legacy. … They were going to have some impact in life and that had been stolen (along with) their purpose on the planet.”
At least it would have been stolen if Badger hadn’t conceived of a way to honor his daughters. Like their father, the girls were dyslexic and struggled in school, but through art they found solace – and more. So, Badger started the LilySarahGraceFund to support what the girls loved most in life: art.
“This is the very thing that gives me oxygen and gives me reason to get up and out of bed every day. The fund itself is what makes total sense to me,” he said.
Now Badger hopes to help the fund make sense to educators, parents and, ultimately, students. Thus far, more than $430,000 has been granted for use in classrooms all over the country. The funds are awarded to teachers in underfunded public elementary schools who use the arts to help connect students of all learning levels to their subject matter.
On Sunday, Nov. 4, Badger’s bus will stop in Louisville to deliver a free, informational presentation to educators and anyone who wants to learn about the LilySarahGraceFund. The session is from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School, 930 E. Main St.
“This is not a fundraiser,” said Wade Johnson, Badger’s ex-brother-in-law, the girls’ uncle and the son of Pauline and Lomer Johnson, who perished in the fire while trying to save their granddaughters. “This is an informational session for anyone who wants to know about Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, the fund their father started to benefit those who use the arts to teach any subject, and for people who simply want to meet Matthew, a man who has taken an inconceivable tragedy and turned it into an endeavor that positively affects kids across the country, all in memory of his beloved daughters.”
Wade Johnson, who resides in Louisville, is helping Badger spread the word about the fund as a way to honor his nieces, who were loved by their cousin, Morgan, 13, Wade’s daughter, a student at Highlands Latin School.
At the funeral, Wade’s sister, Madonna Badger, challenged people to “remember her daughters out loud. This is my effort to help Matt do that, and I know that Mom and Dad would be so proud that we are doing things in Louisville. They lived here for 40 years.”
LilySarahGraceFund Bus Tour
Free Informational Session
What: Matthew Badger, the father of Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, who died in a fire on Christmas Day 2011 along with their grandparents, longtime Louisville residents Lomer and Pauline Johnson, is coming to Louisville to talk about the LilySarahGraceFund. Matthew will conduct an informational session for public elementary school teachers – and anyone else who wants to attend – to discuss the mission of the fund and how teachers can apply for grants from the fund, which has awarded $430,000 to educators thus far.
When: 5-7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4.
Where: Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School, 930 E. Main St., Louisville.
Etc.: This is not a fundraiser. Rather, this is an informational session for anyone who wants to know about Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, the fund their father started to benefit those who use the arts to teach any subject, and for people who simply want to meet Matthew, a man who has taken an inconceivable tragedy and turned it into an endeavor that positively affects kids across the country, all in memory of his beloved daughters.
Remembering Pauline And Lomer Johnson
The following was written by Wade Johnson, a Louisville resident who lost his parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, when they died in a fire in Stamford, Connecticut, while trying to save their three granddaughters, Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger.
The night before, Lomer had been hired to dress as Santa Claus – something he did at Saks Fifth Avenue regularly – and attend a party. Less than 10 hours later, he would lose his life. Lomer left his “Santa glasses” at the holiday party. Eventually, his son, Wade would get them back. “He died hours after making others happy,” Wade said. “And then he died a hero.”
The following are Wade’s words, some of many that he has written about his parents.
I was sitting in a 1950s style diner in Stamford, Connecticut, that Dad would have loved. I was getting an off-the-record debrief from a few law enforcement officials. We drew up a map of the house, each floor separate. They walked me through who went where and where they were found. I broke down hard. So hard. I jumped to the conclusion that when Dad came downstairs with Lily, he must have seen Mom and Grace on the floor near the stairs. There’s no way he didn’t, I thought. That would have broken his heart to see Mom there. I had to believe that he thought Mom and Grace had escaped. The fire chief had assured me it was dark and loud and there was smoke everywhere and Mom may well have come back to the spot after Dad had gone into the guest room with Lily.
Their being gone hit me hard on Mother’s Day. I was walking through Target in St. Matthews and unintentionally came upon the Mother’s Day card display. I stopped and cried. I cried because I missed Mom. I cried because I couldn’t imagine how Madonna was getting through that day. I cried because Morgan had not awakened that morning and phoned her Nana. But then, unexpectedly, a warmth came over me. I was suddenly grateful that Dad was never going to experience the very moment I was experiencing. He was never going to have to figure out how to get through a day without Mom.
1+1 = 2.
Tomorrow the sun will come up in the East.
Lomer loved Pauline.
How to Get A GRANT
The LilySarahGraceFund offers two types of grants each semester. Those teachers that meet the criteria below qualify for funding.
- Grades K-5.
- Show how you will use the arts and creativity to teach academic lessons.
- Document the activities with a digital camera and send us those pictures (If you need assistance, we are always here to help).
- The LilySarahGraceFund may choose to film your project. This would mean that a small, three-person crew would visit your class during the project and document it. We will also likely interview the teacher.
Types of Grants
- Full Semester Grant
Budget: $500 to $5,000 (grants higher than $5,000 may still apply. Determinations will be made based on the project and funds available).
- Short Term Grant
Budget: $100 to $1,000
Short Term Grant applications have no deadlines and will be provided throughout the year as funds allow on a project-by-project basis.
All applications are carefully reviewed by a team of teachers and academics. Those applicants that have been approved for funding will receive a letter from LSGF notifying them. Please note, submission of an application is not a guarantee of funding.
Contact writer Angie Fenton at email@example.com and 502.551.2698.
Category: Cover Stories
About the Author (Author Profile)
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.
Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.