NEW CASTLE —
Following the death of her daughter, Shirley “Sam” Phillips admits she contemplated suicide.
But remembering that Danielle Lee Kennedy decried the act of taking one’s own life chased away those desperate thoughts.
Instead, she found a way to honor her daughter’s memory.
Danielle died at age 16 on Oct. 10, 2006, in Children’s Hospital, Pittsburgh, from injuries sustained in an auto accident two days earlier. Danielle was one of four people killed following a two-car collision at the intersection of Skyhill Road and Route 551. The crash instantly claimed the lives of 19-year-old Dennis Vestal of Hubbard and 22-year-old Jesse Hoover of Girard, Ohio. Heather Vestal, 21, of Greenville, who was Dennis Vestal’s cousin, suffered severe injuries and has since recovered. She was the driver of their car, which struck a southbound car driven by Dorothy Davis of Darlington. Her husband, Larry, died three months later from injuries he sustained in the accident.
Celebrating the holidays after the death of a child is difficult, but Phillips remains vigilant. She places a Christmas tree at the site of the accident every December.
After three years in a deep, dark depression, Phillips emerged with a new purpose.
She credits Jesse Weber, who went to school with Danielle, with making a difference in her life. Weber offered a shoulder to cry on, coming to the house two or three times a week. “I love her like my own child,” said Phillips.
“Since Danielle passed I just wanted to help kids,” she said.
“I don’t do things to be acknowledged, but because it would make Danielle proud,” Phillips said. Those “things” include using monies from the Danielle Lee Kennedy Memorial Fund to sponsor organizations and events that benefit children and teens.
Through the Shenango Valley Foundation, two scholarships were established in Danielle’s memory for students at Hubbard (Ohio) High School and the Lawrence County Career and Technical School, both of which she had attended.
Phillips recently gave $5,000 to the Shop With a Cop program. It was only later that she learned the event would take place Dec. 5, which would have been Danielle’s 24th birthday.
There also were donations to the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County and the City Rescue Mission.
Last year, they used $11,000 to rent a U-Haul and deliver food, laundry, diapers, dog food and cat food to a New Jersey food bank and at a local humane society to support the victims of Hurricane Sandy.