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Sally Firestone's remarkable path through disaster to glory

I still remember the day that my Kansas City Star phone rang and it was the security guard at our front door. He wanted me to know I had a visitor who just showed up without an appointment.

Sally-Firestone"Says her name is Sally Firestone and knows you from childhood," he said.

"I'll be right down," I replied. And there she was, my former neighbor (a block-plus away) from Woodstock, Ill., where I grew up, as did Sally for some of her childhood, at any rate. She had moved to Kansas City recently and noticed my byline in the paper. So she decided on a whim just to drop in.

It was 1975 and Sally (pictured at right a few years ago) had just moved to Kansas City to work, as her obit says, at Peck & Peck, Addressograph-Multigraph and then IBM.

It still shocks me to write the word obit and connect it to Sally (who died Feb. 26) even though, frankly, I expected to read (and maybe even write) an obit for her in 1981 when I learned that she wound up as the most severely physically injured survivor of the collapse of the Skywalks at what then was the Hyatt Regency hotel in the Crown Center complex on the south edge of downtown KC. Sally became an instant quadriplegic, confined to a motorized wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Her parents, the Rev. Jesse Firestone and Marian Firestone, soon relocated to Kansas City to help her figure out what life would look like and how much she would be able to recover. I wrote a few articles for The Star about all of that, while being amazed at this beautiful (inside and out) young woman's attitude. She seemed determined to create the best life possible given these dire circumstances and determined not to blame God for what happened to her.

After treatment in Colorado and after sorting through various options, she wound up living -- with help -- at Kingswood Manor on Wornall Road in South Kansas City. We stayed in touch through occasional visits, notes, phone calls, email and chance meetings. My church was just a couple of blocks south of her church at 52nd and Oak -- Central United Methodist, now known as the Brookside campus of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

Well, Sally got busy with all kinds of church and community activities, as her obit describes. You can read that long list there. In many ways, she lived out an old saying often associated with Methodists because it came from John Wesley, cofounder, with his brother Charles, of Methodism: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

I got busy with life, too, in various ways, so I never wrote a book about her in the context of the Skywalks collapse. But my former Star colleague Rick Serrano did in 2021 -- and a terrific piece of work it is. It's called  Buried Truths and the Hyatt Skywalks: The Legacy of America's Epic Structural Failure. I wrote about it here on my blog when it came out. Rick just wrote this lovely column about Sally for The Star.

In a deeply divided culture, Sally Firestone lived as a uniter and a marvelous example of how to respond to catastrophe. A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 13. I plan to show up -- maybe unannounced, the way Sally once did at The Star looking for me.

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AN LDS-COMMUNITY OF CHRIST FINANCIAL AGREEMENT

Kirtland TempleThe Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), based in Independence, Mo., has just reached an agreement with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City, that allows the Utah church to acquire considerable Community of Christ property, including a famed historic temple in Ohio. This RNS story about the agreement says the Community of Christ will receive $192.5 million for the Kirtland Temple (seen at right in a photo by Val Brinkerhoff) and these items:

  • The (Joseph) Smith Family Homestead, the Mansion House and the Red Brick Store, all in Nauvoo, Illinois.
  • The Joseph Smith Translation manuscripts for Smith’s translation of the Bible.
  • The “Caractors” document of the Book of Mormon translation.
  • A door from the Liberty Jail, where Joseph Smith was once imprisoned.
  • Letters and portraits of Joseph and Emma Smith.

Both churches recognize Joseph Smith as their founder.

The RNS story said that "Historian David Howlett, a professor at Smith College and author of the book Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space, said he received the news Monday from a Community of Christ church leader who was in tears. It quoted Howlett as saying that the Community of Christ's "goal to make the temple and other historic sites 'revenue-neutral' has meant that the denominational budget has taken a hit, and that budget has been shrinking for years."

This link will take you to a Flatland column I did fairly recently about a new Community of Christ ministry effort. And this link will take you to a list of frequently asked questions about this new transaction. The list was put together by the LDS church, often known as the Mormon church. The photo below, which I took several winters ago, shows the Community of Christ Temple, which opened in 1994.

CofCTemple

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