By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
GREATER KANSAS CITY —More than 3,000 people from both sides of the state line gathered in the Jewish Community Center Campus parking lot in Overland Park the evening of April 13. Music thrummed as children and adults danced in place awaiting the start of a 3-mile Peace Walk, the culmination of Seven Days of events, connections, education, exploration and kindness geared toward moving away from ignorance, hate and intolerance to a better world.
April 13 was the 1-year anniversary of the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and nearby Village Shalom retirement community that killed three people: Dr. William Corporon, 69, his grandson Reat Underwood, 14, and Terri LaManno, 53. Corporon and Reat were entering the Community Center to go to a musical audition. Neo-Nazi F. Glen Miller began his personal Holocaust by gunning down Corporon and Reat, then turned to see Terri getting out of her car at Village Shalom for her weekly visit to her mother. She too was shot. All three were Christian.
The LaMannos are parishioners at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kansas City. Terri LaManno grew up in St. Elizabeth’s Parish and graduated from the parish school before attending St. Teresa’s Academy and later nursing school. The Corporon and Underwood families are members of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood; Reat was a freshman at Blue Valley High School.
Dr. Jim LaManno, Terri’s husband, and Mindy Corporon, daughter and mother of the other victims, and their families decided that hatred should not beget hatred. Over the ensuing months, as the families dealt with grief, Seven Days was planned.
Mindy said her mother repeatedly said, “If we could get others to do one week of kindness they would have trouble being evil,” which inspired Seven Days, Make a Ripple, Change the World. Mindy, Jim and their families reached out to others and got them interested. Many people joined in planning something good coming from evil.
We were enveloped in love and kindness, recalled Mindy, speaking of that day and the days following the shootings. “We wanted to give back to our community and say ‘thank you.’”
Jim and his kids, Alyssa and Gian, shared memories of Terri. “I got her hooked on Harry Potter,” Alyssa recalled. “Then we saw Hunger Games.” She stopped for a moment. “I’m working and in nursing school. I’m still grieving. I miss her.”
Jim said Terri was always kind, and passionate about things she cared about, like her family and the children at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired. One of Jim’s acts following the shootings was the creation of the Teresa LaManno Fund at the Center. Jim funded it initially, and hopes it will grow “to where we would have something of substance for others,” like scholarships for “the children Terri cared so much about. She would want to see them have productive lives.”
The last year has been difficult, he said, dealing with the loss of his life’s love, the kindly woman who loved the mint chocolate chip concretes at Foos in Brookside. He tries to stay positive.
Gian is a student at Kansas State University. “She always loved us,” he said, “no matter how we were feeling. She gave great advice. Just hearing her voice we knew she was proud of us! She advocated for us, had our best interests at heart. I wish I could hear her voice now.”
In remembering Reat, Mindy spoke of his singing, his drive and the sweetness of a young teenaged boy. “We were looking forward to so many things,” she said, “he wanted to sing the National Anthem at an MLB game. Homecoming, now he’ll never go. And he wanted to go to the University of Oklahoma. Well, we accomplished that, in a way. Some of his ashes are buried at the university.” A recording of Reat singing the National Anthem was played at a Royal’s game last summer.
A year in the planning, Seven Days of Kindness took place April 7-13, crossing state lines to involve thousands.
Each day had a theme. Day 1 was Love. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews shared the message of love and commonality during an interfaith prayer service at Leawood City Hall.
Gian said he thought the prayer service was “a great way to forget about the differences — we were all made in God’s image. Differences in religious beliefs don’t make others any less of a person, and we have to respect that.”
Day 2 was Discover. In the Rose Theater at Rockhurst High School, Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski shared her story of forgiveness of the fear and hate that fueled the Holocaust World War II. Forgiveness enabled her to remain strong, survive, emigrate to the U.S., marry and eventually prosper in Leawood.
Day 3’s was Others. About 200 people came to St. Peter’s Catholic Church to hear Rwandan genocide survivor Jacqueline Murekatene describe the horror and terror of her childhood. In the 1994 ethnic genocide, more than 800,000 people were systematically killed. Murekatene was the sole survivor of her family. She now lives in the U.S., and is an internationally recognized human rights activist, speaking for victims and survivors of genocide.
Also speaking was Kansas City native Tyrone Flowers. Born to teenagers who could not raise him, he spent his first years with his grandmother. When she could no longer care for him, he spent the remainder of his childhood shuffled between foster homes, detention centers, reform schools and state-sponsored youth facilities. Service providers thought him a lost cause, with no hope for a future. An argument with a basketball teammate ended with Flowers being shot three times with a .357 magnum pistol, and paralyzed from the waist down. He transformed himself into a college graduate, earned a law degree and now he and his wife run Higher M-Pact, a mentoring program for high-risk urban youth.
Day 4, Connect, encouraged people to explore their heritages and gather with family.
Day 5, a day for outdoor activities around the Kansas City area was themed Go.
Day 6, You: people were encouraged to take time for personal growth, feel pride in accomplishments and do something for themselves.
Day 7, Onward, began at St. Peter’s with a memorial Mass honoring the victims. In his homily, Father Steve Cook, pastor of St. Peter’s, recalled the Gospel, John 20 about Doubting Thomas. “What Jesus went through was not a mirage. His wounds were real. Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit can work powerfully when we allow it to. The Holy Spirit is in those wounds.
“We don’t pretend our wounds are not there. But like Jesus, in the past year we’ve turned this around into something grand. We’ve found a way we can allow the Holy Spirit to work powerfully in the wounds not cauterized by hate. We’re grateful to the LaManno, Corporon and Underwood families for being unafraid to show their wounds. You’ve shown us how to do something good.”
A balloon release followed Mass, with 14 pink, 53 purple and 69 red balloons, honoring the ages of the victims and their favorite colors, sailing upward.
The week before, St. Peter’s students participated in Seven Days of Kindness with many different activities. Kindergarteners learned to make paper pysanky. Pysanky is a Ukrainian art form in which eggs are beautifully decorated with meaningful symbols and given as gifts. It’s a Ukrainian belief that pysanky helps drive out evil. First graders mentored kindergarteners by reading to them. Second graders learned how to say “Hello,” “Goodbye” and “I love you” in different languages. They discovered that the way of saying “I love you” in Hebrew depends on whether the “you” is male or female. Tagxedos were created for four school staff members by third graders, using complimentary descriptive adjectives in a word cloud in a specific shape related to the members. Recess time was spent cleaning up the playground, the sidewalks and around the houses near school. Sixth graders “discovered” someone in their grade they didn’t know well and asked questions, sharing their discoveries the next day. Seventh graders tagged the balloons for the release after the Mass, “Make a Ripple … Change the World.” Eighth graders held bake sales for two days during lunch periods. They raised $452 and plan to buy socks for the homeless served by Uplift.
Also that Monday, a memorial bench was dedicated to Reat at Blue Valley High School. That evening, the walk took place.
Reat’s recorded voice singing the National Anthem was played. Overland Park’s and Kansas City, Mo.’s mayors spoke to the crowd. Rabbi Jonathon Rudnick blessed the walkers and off they went. From the Jewish Community Campus at 115th and Nall, three miles south to Church of the Resurrection at 137th and Nall the crowd walked, carrying babies, holding the hands of small children, chatting, meeting new people.
At the church, the winners of a songwriting competition were announced and performed. The competition was sponsored by the Racial and Religious Acceptance and Cultural Equality (RRACE) and the Faith Always Wins foundations. The composition “Free Bird” won a $5,000 scholarship for young songwriter and performer Michaelah Burns.
A candle lighting ceremony concluded Seven Days. Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection lit the first candle from three candles representing Dr. Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno. He said by doing so, all candles lit from that first candle would have something of Bill, Reat and Terri’s spirits. Accompanied by the Lee’s Summit High School Women’s Chorus, walkers lit candles at the end of each row in the sanctuary, which in turn lit the candle next to it. All that could be clearly seen was tiny flames springing up one by one, until there were thousands in the dark room.
It was “a time to remember and go into the future of a more accepting community,” Gian said.
F. Glen Miller is scheduled for trial in August for the murders. A guilty plea is expected.
Tax deductible donations can be made to the foundations. Select from the Reat Griffin Underwood Memorial Foundation, the Teresa LaManno Scholarship Fund at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, Racial and Religious Acceptance and Cultural Equality and/or Faith Always Wins. For more information, visit www.givesevendays.org.