As Newton’s Mark Stiles flipped through pages of the 1989 Newtonia in the lobby of Skiff Medical Center on Friday, pictures of him in Cardinal red football jerseys and as the NHS homecoming king dotted the pages.
“I won ‘Worst Driver’ but not “Best Hair’ — mullets don’t win ‘Best Hair,’” he joked.
This particular Friday night seemed only fitting for a jaunt down memory lane to nearly 25 years ago, when the NHS Class of 1989 graduated. Now, the class has been brought together, again this time in support of Stiles.
In August of 2012, Stiles underwent neck surgery in Des Moines but experienced complications that landed him in intensive care. While Stiles — recovering, but still in a wheelchair — is slated for release from rehabilitation at Skiff, one of his former classmates helped bring Cardinals young and old together to help his growing family: Jody, NHS Class of 1994, and two daughters, Sadie, 18 months, and Sidney, 2 weeks.
“It’s been almost 25 years, and people have moved to different cities and different states, and here we have a classmate in need,” Stiles’ classmate Chris Arend of Altoona explained. “After reading the updates that Mark’s wife posted on his Caringbridge page (a social media site designed to keep loved ones updated on the conditions of those with serious illnesses), I thought there has to be something that we can do to help them out.”
As the medical costs for Stiles’ procedures piled on, Arend decided to coordinate a gift card collection for the family, spearheaded on Facebook.
“Social media has been huge for this collection,” she said. “You even have people who aren’t on all the time, but one person shares it and then another person shares it. I think social media gets a lot of bad raps, but I’m thankful for it in this regard.”
The Facebook page “Gift card collection for Mark Stiles!” soon gained plenty of fans and garnered a total of $7,560 in donations of gift cards for the Stiles family. Despite her coordinating efforts, however, Arend gives credit to those who donated.
“None of the credit for this goes to me,” she said. “If people hadn’t donated, we wouldn’t be here tonight. This wasn’t just our class. It was classes before us and even classes now, not just the class of ’89.”
As for the Stiles, the emotion was clear as Mark thanked family and friends in attendance while Jody wiped a stray tear.
“Thank you to everyone to shared it with people, who then shared it with other people,” Jody said. “It’s truly the beauty of social media.”
“Tonight was a shock,” she added. “I’d seen an update a few weeks ago when it was at $2,500, and I thought that was a lot.”
“We’ve just been overwhelmed by the generosity of friends and family,” Mark said. “It’s good to be appreciated ... this is something we never expected, but it is definitely appreciated. It’s been a struggle and a challenge but we make it work.”
Jody explained that Mark’s positive impression on his classmates throughout high school is still apparent today.
“I really just think this shows what kind of a person Mark is,” she said. “Some of these people he hasn’t seen since graduation. There were my classmates (from the NHS Class of 1994), parents of friends and people who didn’t know either of us.”
“We can’t thank Chris enough,” she added. “She put so much thought into all of this. Twenty years ago this couldn’t have happened. There was no email sent out, no fliers — it was just on Facebook, and that’s what made it happen.”
Above all else on this Friday night, however, one thing rang particularly true: “This is going to take good care of our girls,” Mark said. “Dad’s going to be around for a long time.”
A benefit for the Stiles family is being planned for April 20 at the American Legion Post 111 in Newton, with details to follow. Those wishing to donate to the silent auction may contact Michele Stiles at email@example.com For those who wish to donate to the Stiles family, contributions may be sent to 1st Newton National Bank c/o Mark Stiles Family.
Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.