January 17, 2020

‘I just felt their love’: A promise made in high school is kept, helping a friend through a tough time

During a difficult period in her family’s life, Norah Kinderman, center, and her family have been blessed by the caring efforts of her former high school classmates, including Patty Belden, left, and Kelly Duggins. (Submitted photo)

During a difficult period in her family’s life, Norah Kinderman, center, and her family have been blessed by the caring efforts of her former high school classmates, including Patty Belden, left, and Kelly Duggins. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The promises we make to our best friends in high school are well intentioned and straight from the heart.

Forged by the good times, the tough times and the crazy times we share, we vow, “You can count on me. I’ll always be there for you. Whenever you need something, anything, just let me know.”

That’s the way it was for Norah Kinderman, Patty Belden and Kelly Duggins—close friends from the class of 1999 at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville.

Then the different directions of life separated Norah from Patty and Kelly for years, and their friendship became tucked away like a high school yearbook on a shelf.

Yet on a November day in 2019—as Norah struggled through a time that threatened her life and tested her faith—the promises that were made 20 years earlier were lived out in an unforgettable way.

‘I just felt their love’

In April of 2019, Norah was a mother of two young sons who was finally pursuing her dream—becoming a nurse who would care for and touch the lives of people dealing with medical setbacks.

That’s when Norah was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer that required a double mastectomy and follow-up treatments that continue today. Then in October, her husband Scott suffered a heart attack that led to quadruple bypass surgery.

Recalling those harsh realities, Norah said, “My faith has been tested.”

At that point, Patty and Kelly intervened. After having reconnected with Norah a few years ago, they took their friendship to a new level by organizing a benefit for Norah’s family.

“They were my best friends in high school, but as we got older, we kind of drifted apart,” Norah recalled. “Then our kids ended up going to the same school—Our Lady of Perpetual Help [in New Albany.] We’d get together and talk and reminisce. When they called and said they wanted to do a benefit, it was amazing. Scott and I were both out of work, and our medical bills were piling up.”

Norah paused as the emotion of that moment overwhelmed her again.

“I can’t even describe the feeling I had when I heard about the benefit from them. I just felt their love, and I needed it at that point.”

‘I will always be grateful’

The benefit was held at the school—a “family barbecue” featuring games, music, a bounce house, face painting and meals that included barbecued pork sandwiches and hot dogs.

Families from the school came. So did Norah’s family, classmates from Providence’s class of 1999, and classmates from her grade school days at the former St. Mary School in New Albany. The parish men’s club made and donated the sandwiches, and a deejay played the music for free.

The list goes on, a list of people that helped to raise $10,000 for the family.

The benefit also raised the spirits of the Kinderman family.

“The love of our family and friends pulled us through a really rough time,” said Norah, the mother of 9-year-old Mason and 3-year-old Lincoln. “Everywhere I turned, people were there for me, even strangers. It definitely restored that faith that was lost.

“I couldn’t have made it through this time for Scott and myself without this community. They helped with my kids. They picked them up to take them to school and to bring them home. They fed us. They filled in the gaps, and I will always be grateful for that. It’s unbelievable all the people who have come together to support us.”

It’s all part of the bond they formed in high school, says Norah’s classmate Patty Belden. There’s also another part of the bond that connects them.

‘It gave us a feeling of hope and happiness’

“Norah is special to me,” said Patty. “I know what it’s like to be a mom, and to see her struggling emotionally, physically and financially, we just wanted to help her in some way. Our friend Kelly is a big part of this. She asked me, ‘What can we do to help her?’ It was a call to action. With the school, with the church and our class at Providence, we knew we could do something.”

While the benefit touched and helped Norah and her family, it also left an impact on everyone who took part in it, Patty said.

“It was an overwhelming feeling. Even though in the grand scheme of things, it was small, it made a huge difference to them. And it gave us a feeling of hope and happiness.”

The effort also gave her and her husband Jonathan another reminder of what makes the Catholic community in southern Indiana so special.

“It just reiterates why we sent our kids to school at Our Lady [of Perpetual Help]. My husband and I both grew up here. We both graduated from Providence. We really appreciate the community that the deanery in southern Indiana has brought us. It reaffirmed our decision to send our kids to Catholic schools and to Our Lady.”

That sentiment was shared by another one of Norah’s Providence classmates—Steve Beyl, the principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.

“We were taught at Providence to care and look out for others,” he said. “It just so happens that this involved a classmate of ours, and that made it more special. Providence has a term that all graduates know, and it is ‘Blue Pride.’ At its heart, it means a pride in our school and community. That includes care and concern for one of our own.”

‘We come together as one’

Beyl has known that care and concern himself, from the time he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, at the age of 27. Back then, he was a teacher at Providence and the father of a 6-month-old son.

“I remember how helpful my Providence family was to me then,” said Beyl, who recently celebrated 10 years of being cancer-free. “That stuff really matters, I promise you. The students and staff had a special Mass in my honor. They organized meals to be delivered to my home. They stopped by to visit. All of that made me want to get better as fast as I could so that I could return to work.”

He now fosters that sense of community at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, where Norah’s son Mason is in the fourth grade.

“We all want students who excel with high test scores, but we have to keep in mind that we are being called to form our students in the spiritual sense,” Beyl said.  “Our community is at the heart of everything we do. We come together as one to live out the values of love, compassion and understanding. We want our students to develop a strong and sustained sense of empathy for others.”

Norah has seen that approach come to life, thanks to the actions of some of her closest friends in high school, and many others.

“We couldn’t have picked a better place for our kids to go to school,” she said. “Not just because of the education, but the sense of community and family. It’s a perfect fit for us.” †

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