It has been almost six years since Lisa Hanschu lost her 19-year-old son James Weber in a two-vehicle accident that shook Marion County.
Weber and his 18-year-old friend, Jeremiah Stang, both died because of injuries they sustained at 340th and Nighthawk Rds.
The boys were passengers in a car driven by Jessica Deines, 20, of Ramona, when the car was struck broadside by a pickup driven by Alex Hajek, 17, of Tampa.
Both drivers survived.
To honor the teens, community members put up a roadside memorial at the accident scene on land donated by David Muller.
“I keep up the memorial site. I was just there last weekend,” Hanschu said Thursday. “I mow it, weed-eat, and put flowers out. It’s a painful reminder of what happened there. I maintain it because so many people reached out to us and gave their time, money, love, and support when we needed it most. It’s a place of healing and reflection, not just for me, but for everyone who knew and loved these boys.”
She said she often receives pictures from people who visit the memorial. Some sit quietly in remembrance. Others have picnics.
The memorial includes a stone monument donated by Gary and Pam Diepenbrock and family of Lincolnville, a planter given by members of Weber’s extended family, and concrete benches given by each boy’s families.
Enno and Yvonne Burhoop and family of Burdick also donated a 6-foot tall oak cross that Hanschu said rests in the place where she last saw her son alive.
“I knelt and watched my son die,” Hanschu said. “When I go there it is different than when I visit his grave at the cemetery.
“The cemetery is his final resting place. It represents all that was lost. I go to the memorial to try to overcome that horrific day. It is an ongoing way for me to learn to live with what I saw.
“There is no greater pain than to lose a child, half your heart is just gone, and it doesn’t get easier. It just gets different. Faith is all you have, and in this lifetime, there might never be an answer, but you have to try to find a peace that will allow you to move on.”
In 2003, teenagers Lyndsay Sherbert, 15, and Alison Cady, 16, died after a semi collided with their car while they were crossing US 50 and US 77 intersection north of Florence.
Afterward, the fatal wreck prompted an installation of a roundabout that is part of the roadway today, but the memory still lingers for friends and family, and two crosses stand at the site of the wreck as memorial to the girls.
Although Lyndsay’s dad, Daniel Sherbert, is not exactly sure who put the crosses up, he maintains the memorials when he notices they need attention.
He said Lyndsay’s mom Luanne Molzen asked him to make sure the crosses stayed up, and he held true to his promise, but he’s not the only one.
“There have been several times I’ve gone to take care of them, and someone has already mowed it, or straightened the up crosses if they had fallen over,” Sherbert said.
Many of the emergency responders who were there that day knew Lyndsay, he said, she spent much of her childhood in Florence.
“It’s kind of…that spot was the last place the girls were together in this life, and I didn’t get to go to the scene. I was in Wichita when it happened,” Sherbert said. “I didn’t see her until the funeral.”
After the accident, he received a touching letter from people who were with his daughter at the scene.
“In some ways, I think I still maintain the crosses for them too,” Sherbert said. “They were there and they helped her before she passed.
“It’s tough. Over the years, many people died there before they put the roundabout in. I go down there sometimes just to hold up our ‘I love you’ sign.”
The sign was a special gesture he and his daughter shared, he said.
“It’s like the Texas Longhorn hand signal, only we stuck out our thumbs,” Sherbert said. “I always use my left hand. It was our thing. Your pinky is the ‘I’, your thumb and index finger makes the ‘L’ for love, and the gap between your index finger and pinky are the ‘you.’ I hold it up every time I drive through there.”