2013 Tenderness Tour
Jessica Evans Legacy Tenderness Tour a Huge Success
It was over the Labor Day holiday weekend in 2012. I was wheeling through Elkhart County, Indiana on my 23rd Annual Tenderness Tour when I began to notice some strange buzz on my Facebook page. It would take me about 24 hours or so to catch on to the fact that 17-year-old Jessica Evans hadn't returned home from a camping overnight w/her boyfriend, Jacob Wheeler.
I'd long been friends with Jessi's mom, who'd also volunteered for the Tenderness Tour. Jessi and I were, in fact, Facebook friends and one of my last memories of Jessi was of her "liking" something I'd said about my upcoming Tenderness Tour.
Jessi and Jake were murdered by Danny Coston, who was convicted of the first degree murder of Jessi, second degree murder of Jake, and criminal sexual assault. He was just recently sentenced to 53 years in prison.
I will admit that I was really tempted to quit wheeling when I received the news about Jessi, though to do so also seemed pointless as this was precisely the time when I needed to keep wheeling. I maintained contact with Jessi's mom over the coming weeks and months. At one point, we discussed the idea of a Tenderness Tour but at the time it simply wasn't time.
When summer 2013 arrived, I received a message from Jessi's mom that was basically along the lines of "Let's do this." So, I spent a couple weeks figuring out how to do a Tenderness Tour while honoring Jessi's dignity. We made the decision to symbolically "bring 'er home" by my wheeling from Carmi, Illinois (the area where she was killed) to her home village of Norris City.
Her mother had started the Jessica Evans Memorial Scholarship at her high school with the just graduated class that would have included Jessi. In a complete coincidence since mom wasn't who selected the winner, Jessi's best friend won the first award - a $500 prize celebrating someone with a zest for life, a commitment to other, and a pretty darn creative streak.
We decided, okay I decided, I wanted to fund this scholarship for a 10 year period to ensure Jessi's ongoing legacy. Additionally, I hoped to meet with at least one local organization. Donations were raised through a GoFundMe page along with those received in town. There were also other fundraisers that went on including a volleyball tournament, the sale of Jessi's art work, a Scentsy fundraiser, and a special fundraiser in the name of her 2 1/2 year old nephew Miles - "A Mile of Pennies," an effort to collect (you guessed it!) a mile of pennies.
The Jessica Evans Legacy Tenderness Tour was overwhelmingly successful in a variety of ways. Despite a 107 degree heat index, I was able to "bring 'er home" and was often joined on the route by several local residents. Additionally, we raised over $7,000 that will fund the scholarship for 14+ years. The rest of the itinerary went like this -
I arrived in town about 3pm and promptly met with The Guardian Center, a local child advocacy center. The Guardian Center was surprised to receive The Tenderness Award, presented as a plaque and $250 donation for their excellent service to the community. Because we'd also met our fundraising goal, they received another donation the following day. After The Guardian Center, a cookout was held with some of the volunteers/supporters at S&E Auto with a ton of support by PIFF (Pay it Forward Forever). This was an awesome, low-pressure way to meet everyone. After this, I retired for the night at my host facility - Wabash Christian Retirement Center.
I must confess I had a few concerns about this 24th Tenderness Tour. My health is a little hit-and-miss these days, but I had a strong support team and was staying in a great place to get rest. Despite issues with the heat, a challenging start and a rough bathroom stop, I was able to finish thanks to a tremendous road crew. I finished the day at Norris City Reservoir, where a whole bunch of folks from the community waited patiently as I arrived MUCH later than expected. Local television channel 14 also kicked off the day with me and young Miles started off on his bike with me...which may have been the coolest thing ever. I spent the night at Wabash again - they even threw me (almost literally) into the whirlpool, which sure sped up my recovery time.
The final day in town was quiet but still eventful. I started off by joining Pastor Michael Fields for Wabash's Sunday morning service. Then, I joined with Kris (Jessi's mom), Karissa (roadie extraordinaire), and Michael (Kris's brother) as we visited the spot where Jessi/Jake had been fishing and other spots in the area. This was a personal day and a powerful way to end the Jessica Evans Legacy Tenderness Tour.
- Race Away From Domestic Violence - 6/1/2013
- Jessica Evans Legacy Tenderness Tour - 8/30-9/1/2013
- "Out of the Darkness" Walk for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Indiana (Sponsor) - 9/14/2013