Special Preview: Tears to Water-Part II

'Tears to Water' to air on WKBT Aug. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

When you lose a child, how do you go forward with life?

That’s the question the Parker family of Tomah found themselves trying to answer after the death of their 17 year old son Jesse in 2009. He was killed in a car crash on his way home from a family vacation.

But what has happened since then is truly remarkable.

News 8’s Mike Thompson and Photojournalist Travis Kobs recently traveled to Uganda, Africa as Jesse’s family and community carry on his dreams.

Those who knew Jesse Parker describe him as an extremely compassionate and kind person. He imagined a world where everyone gave their all to help those in need.

Jesse had big dreams to become an engineer, join the Peace Corps and help bring clean water to villages in Africa.

While he won’t get to realize those dreams, the Parker family has helped create a “ripple of hope” around the world that started right here in our own local communities.

“Everyday someone tells me, you are living my nightmare. And I agree. I am living my nightmare too.  But they come and help us and they remember a sweet boy,” said Jesse’s mom Jen.

From day one after Jesse’s death, the Parker’s knew they needed to do something to honor their son. And they quickly learned, they had an entire community behind them.

Jen says, “we call that our Jesse family.”

Jesse was part of Tomah high school’s track and cross country teams. Running was in his blood.

“We all thought the best way to remember Jesse would be to do something that he loved doing – and that was running,” said good friend Angie Gasser.

And so was born the Remembering Jesse Parker Run/Walk. “We have money going to Habitat for Humanity, Coats for Kids, food pantries, domestic abuse shelter, cribs and car seats. It just goes to so many areas,” said race committee member Scott Nicol.

Kids in the Onalaska and Tomah school districts have hopped on board this mission too, to honor a boy they never met. “He had a dream to help people in Africa and we’re helping his dream come true,” said Miller Elementary fourth grader Cassie Lenning.

And while the need is great in Africa for the necessities, sometimes it’s about allowing kids to be kids; an idea that came from one of the people closest to Jesse. 

“It feels really exciting because something that I made will be able to go across the world and make another person happy,” said Miller Elementary fourth grader Moriah Murray.

Tomah Rotary, La Crosse Downtown Rotary, the Lions Club, churches, community groups, schools have all embraced this mission.

“It’s just phenomenal when you think of the money that has been raised and the lives, the children that have been helped and the lives that have been savedjust from their generosity, just as a tribute to their son ,” said Jackie Flock, a life-long Tomah resident.

Jen says, “all these people that have different talents and passions and goals, but they all fill within this dream of being our best selves to each other. That’s beautiful. I can’t tell you as a mother of a child who had all these dreams, simple dreams in some ways, to have all these people pick up on this dream and help it move forward, I can’t tell you what that means.”

Check out special coverage at: www.news8000.com/tears-to-water. And follow #TearstoWater on Twitter.