While glue holds things together, the bond of love tends to be more permanent.
Stephanie Stahl was the "glue" in the circle of her family and friends. "She just wanted to help make everybody feel better," said Stephanie's mom, Sandy Miller. "She did a lot of stuff for a lot of people."
Stephanie's life was tragically cut short as the result of an accident in the early morning hours of Nov. 11. She was the passenger in a vehicle that was rear-ended by another vehicle at a high rate of speed. The driver of the vehicle who hit her faces multiple DUI charges as a result. The accident occurred on McCutcheon Road, only a mile or two from Stephanie's home. She left behind her husband, Brad, and her teenage daughter, Jordan.
A group of family and friends of Stephanie Stahl, who was killed in a car accident on McCutcheon Road in Triadelphia on Nov. 11, have adopted a two-mile stretch of that highway in her memory. The first of three yearly clean ups begins today at 10 a.m. Pictured are Stephanie’s husband and daughter, Brad and Jordan Stahl; Gary and Sandra Miller, mother and step-father; Lisa, Zach and Ethyn Taylor, sister-in-law and nephews; Eric Jepson; Dave, Jackie and Conner Patterson, friends and Triadelphia VFD; Jeff McConnell, Triadelphia VFD chief; Tammy Keller; Denny Andlinger; and Rhonda, Megan and Krista Keller-McCardle.
For the family and friends who depended on her to always be there, they were left grieving and searching for a way to heal.
Triadelphia Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeff McConnell visited the site of the accident a few days later, and he noticed a really nice view from the hill. However, there was a problem. "There was so much trash lying around, so I just started picking up garbage, trying to make the area look nice in case Brad or somebody came over," he said.
Jeff thought back to a program he participated in years ago that involved cleaning a stretch of interstate, and he researched to make sure the program still existed. Once he learned details of the Adopt-A-Highway program, he approached his assistant chief, who was also a close friend of Stephanie's, Dave Patterson with the idea. With the backing of Dave and his wife, Jackie, the trio then approached Stephanie's husband, Brad.
"I didn't want to do anything without their permission," Jeff said.
The group then approached Stephanie's parents, and things blossomed from there. The Triadelphia VFD proposed the idea to Stephanie's friends, who dove in without a second thought.
The Adopt-A-Highway project requires three highway cleanings each year, which involves the removal of trash from the designated section of road. The group's first cleaning will take place today at 10 a.m. After the first cleaning, the state will erect signs on either side of the highway memorializing that stretch of McCutcheon Road for Stephanie - a distance of approximately two miles. The signs "will be there forever; everybody will see it," said Dave Patterson. "Everybody comes to the Highlands."
Upon approval from the state, a permanent roadside memorial will also be installed. The group put up a temporary memorial there until the paperwork for the state memorial goes through.
On the day of the clean up, the state supplies all of the vests, gloves and garbage bags. Even the state representative who spoke to both Dave and Jeff about the project is planning to attend and participate in the first clean up because she was so moved by the story.
On March 17, Tammy Keller, a friend of Stephanie's, created a group on Facebook with information about the Adopt-A-Highway project. Within a few days, the number of group members shot up to nearly 200. The current group total is more than 230 members. "We knew it was going to explode once we posted it on Facebook," Dave said. "The response was just overwhelming."
"We were trying to keep it quiet and it's already up to 200 people," Tammy replied. "Just based on the Adopt-A-Highway project and people interested in knowing about it, it's grown that much in four days."
In order to keep the project organized, Tammy spearheaded a committee to oversee the group and make sure the first of the three cleanings goes smoothly and everyone stays safe.
To thank everyone for their hard work, Stephanie's mom, Sandy, wanted to throw a luncheon immediately after the clean up. "I know everyone's doing it from their heart and they want to be there, but still it's greatly appreciated," she said with a smile.
Local businesses are doing their part to help the cause. The group has received donations from Econolodge Dallas Pike, that is providing a banquet room and parking; Riesbecks; Foodland of Monongahela, Pa.; Gumby's; Cherokee Trading Post, and the Triadelphia and Valley Grove volunteer fire departments.
The group considers what they're doing for Stephanie to be an extension of what Stephanie always did for everyone else.
"She had something in everyone's life - something," Sandy said, noting that Stephanie was always involved with her daughter, kids and their parents and patients at work. She participated in the Locks of Love program, and arranged benefits to help ailing family members. And as an organ donor, she continued to give even after she died. "All her organs were donated that weren't affected by the accident," Sandy stated.
When Stephanie wasn't busy organizing benefits or assisting others, she also liked to have fun with her family and friends. Dave recalled a Halloween when he, Jackie, Stephanie and Brad dressed up like a "dead bridal party."
"Stephanie was the groom, Jackie was the best man, Brad was the bride and I was the maid of honor. The guys wore dresses and the girls wore suits," Dave said. He continued with a laugh, "We had these old prom dresses and had the kids take them and drag them up and down the driveway in the rain and mud. Stephanie painted us all white. I'll never forget that night. We went to eat at Silver Chopsticks before we went to the costume party. You should have seen the looks we were getting."
Stephanie's sister-in-law, Lisa Taylor, said, "She was always everybody's friend, and if you had a bad day, she'd just tell you to get over it and suck it up."
Right now, the group is just remembering Stephanie, her life and how she touched everyone.
"It's important to remember people that do good," Jeff stated. "You always hear about people doing bad. There's too much of that and not enough good."
"This is kind of like a therapy, too, for everyone," Sandy explained. "It's happy, it's sad, it's a mix of emotions, but everybody needs that.
"You don't realize how one person can touch so many lives, just little things," she added. "But she was there somewhere."