March 2, 2007

A heartfelt tribute: Friends celebrate couple, who connected them, with scholarship

Known for their love of sunsets and for making the lives of others better, the late Joseph and Barbara Krier will also be remembered by their friends through a scholarship that helps students at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Known for their love of sunsets and for making the lives of others better, the late Joseph and Barbara Krier will also be remembered by their friends through a scholarship that helps students at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

They headed for the dance floor, smiling and laughing, knowing this was the way that Barbara and Joseph Krier would have wanted them to be.

After all, if there were ever two people who knew how to have a good time—and wanted to share that feeling with others—the Kriers were that couple.

In fact, the Kriers were part of a remarkable group of friends that first formed in their high school days in Indianapolis during the early 1970s.

The group included seven couples who started dating in their junior year—seven couples who defied the odds of teen romance and stayed together, seven couples who would later marry and stay close friends with the others, seven couples who went on vacations together, became godparents to each others’ children and continued to celebrate their annual Christmas dinner together.

So when the news came on Jan. 1, 2006, that Barb and Joe Krier had been killed in a small plane crash, it devastated the other six couples: Ron and Celeste Thompson, Tom and Cindy Mattingly, Patty and Tom O’Connor, Jim and Sherry Pappas, John and Celeste Kennedy, and Dave and Cathy Dunwiddie.

They shook their heads in disbelief. They shared their tears, their memories and their concern for their friends’ three children, who had been injured in the crash. And in the weeks that followed, as their heartbreak continued, they tried to find a way to honor two of their best friends.

The plan evolved into a good-time, tropical-themed dance party that would raise money for a scholarship to help a student attend Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. It’s the school where the Kriers began to date and where their friendships with the other six couples started to grow.

The second annual Tropical Tribute to the Kriers will be on March 9 at the Northside Knights of Columbus Hall in Indianapolis.

“Last year’s tribute was fun, and we made sure it was,” says Ron Thompson, one-half of one of the seven couples who all have ties to Bishop Chatard’s graduating class of 1974. “Barb and Joe wouldn’t have liked it if we didn’t have a fun time. We made it a tropical tribute because Joe had a band that played ‘island’ type of music, like Jimmy Buffet. We decided to do it like Barb and Joe were there.”

That night—and especially the purpose of the event—helped to ease some of the heartbreak for their closest friends.

“We were crushed by what happened,” Patty O’Connor says. “Every year, since we started dating, Barb hosted the same couples at this Christmas dinner party. We were always drawn together by Barb and Joe. That gift of friendship is one of the most treasured gifts we have.”

“It was very difficult to lose two very good friends like that,” Ron Thompson says. “We always did everything together. Everything that Joe and Barb did was to make your life and my life better. Barb volunteered two or three days a week at nursing homes, taking Communion to people. Joe flew plane trips for Angel Flight,” a national network that arranges free air transportation in small private planes for patients and their families to specialized medical facilities during times of family, community and national crisis.

“Joe put himself through Chatard. When he was in school, he started a janitorial service and cleaned restaurants at night. It meant a lot to Joe and Barb that they went to Chatard and their kids went there.”

The Krier children have had to make their own recoveries, both physically and emotionally.

At 23, Drew is a senior at Ball State University, scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in business administration. At 21, Matt is also at Ball State, majoring in marketing. At 25, Theresa is a researcher for a biotechnology company in Indianapolis. This year, she is also on the planning committee for the Tropical Tribute to her parents.

Theresa pauses when she considers a question about her life since the tragic crash.

“It’s been very hard,” she says. “It’s also brought out qualities I never thought I had—strength and courage. It’s been very sad.”

Her mood brightens when she talks about the tribute to her parents.

“Last year’s dance was pretty amazing. I was excited to see the support. It was like a big party. My parents would have loved it. My dad was always the life of the party, and my mom was a good planner of them so they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

The fundraiser meant even more when the Krier children and the six other couples met the student who benefited from the event—Emily Schafer of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis.

“I met her when we presented the award to her,” Theresa says. “She’s amazing. She’s done a really good job of representing the award and my parents—being a good friend, doing volunteer work, having good values, working in the Church. She’s helping with the Tropical Tribute this year. She’s already held a bake sale for it, and she’s going to help us set up and decorate the room before everyone arrives. She’s also going to bring some of the desserts.”

At Chatard, Emily is a manager for the volleyball team and a member of the Student Council, the pro-life group and the executive council of the school’s dance marathon that helps raise funds for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

Emily just wants to live up to the example of the Kriers, who were members of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis.

“The scholarship definitely helped a lot,” Emily says. “I don’t think I would have been able to go to Chatard without it. From what I’ve been told, they really seemed like amazing people. They helped their community a lot. They’re really good role models to live up to.”

Theresa Krier feels the same way. Helping with the tribute is one more way to connect her with her parents. It reminds her of the deep friendship her parents had with the six other couples. It reminds her of the deep love her parents had for her and her brothers.

“I feel like I’m making a difference,” Theresa says. “This is something close to me. It really means a lot to me. I think it’s really nice that my parents’ friends have set this up. It’s really a tribute to the lives my parents led.”

(The second annual Tropical Tribute will be held from 7:30 p.m. to midnight on March 9 at the Northside Knights of Columbus Hall, 2100 E. 71st St., in Indianapolis. Admission is $30 and includes food and beverages. Music will be played by Polkaboy.) †

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