Book to tell teacher’s story of faith, endurance

Caitlin O’Hara/The Herald
Precious Blood School fifth-grade teacher Kelly Schaefer helped student Jack Ahlbrand form dependent clauses during class Tuesday at the school in Jasper. Schaefer, who was paralyzed when a car carrying her and her brother Jason was hit by a drunk driver in 1999, is collaborating with her aunt Michelle Weidenbenner to write a book about her life before and after the accident.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Kelly Schaefer has told parts of her story of trials and triumphs many times, but soon, she will finally get the chance to tell the whole tale.


The Jasper native — formerly Kelly Craig — was paralyzed in an accident when a car in which she and her brother Jason were riding was hit by a drunk driver during a family vacation in Colorado in 1999. Now Schaefer and her aunt, Michelle Weidenbenner of Warsaw, are collaborating to create a memoir about Schaefer’s life before and after in a book tentatively titled “Fractured But Not Broken.”

Weidenbenner’s husband, Dave, is the brother of Schaefer’s mother, Brenda Krempp. She has known Kelly her whole life but lived hours away, though the two saw each other at family events. As a full-time writer, Weidenbenner began the process of compiling information for a potential novel based on Schaefer’s life about eight years ago, but the two abandoned the project when an agent discouraged them. This fall, the pair decided to revive the book, now intended as a factual memoir written from Schaefer’s point of view using Weidenbenner’s words. Weidenbenner has had some success with self-publishing previous works, and she will do the same for her book about Schaefer, hopefully some time in 2015.

Weidenbenner’s previous research has netted her transcripts from the trial of the drunk driver who injured Schaefer. She has talked to first responders and police, and she has also spent many hours chatting with Schaefer herself about life both pre- and post-accident. In November, in honor of National Novel Writing Month, Weidenbenner even traveled to Jasper to stay 10 days with Schaefer and her husband, Shawn, to learn more about her niece’s everyday life. She watched Schaefer’s routine — the 34-year-old is paralyzed in all four limbs and requires a nurse to do many tasks — and even followed her to Precious Blood School in Jasper, where she is a fifth-grade teacher.

“We would sit in their living room and I would just fire questions and write and write,” Weidenbenner said of her visit. “It was powerful. It was like stepping into somebody else’s life. I felt like I got a chance to really live and breathe Kelly’s world.”

When the pair are not together, they communicate by phone and email. When Weidenbenner finishes a chapter, she sends it to Schaefer, who checks for accuracy as well as the message. They aren’t writing for money, but they do have goals about how the book will be received.

Precious Blood School fifth-grader Brian Dinh of Jasper read aloud dependent clauses written by his classmates while teacher Kelly Schaefer watched Tuesday at the Jasper school.

“I often will pray for direction on what books to write, and sometimes it’s unclear to me. But I feel like this is something that I want to do and I need to do,” Weidenbenner said. “I believe Kelly’s book will give people hope and it gives a great message.”

For Schaefer, delving back into memories from the accident and her ensuing struggles hasn’t always been easy. She often speaks publicly about her life at events throughout the area, but she calls those “snapshots” because they don’t include all the details. Since the project began, she has had a chance to read many other perspectives about the incident that she otherwise wouldn’t have seen. The accident killed the driver of the vehicle she was in and also injured a third passenger.

“It’s interesting to see it all come together and how it affected other people. It’s been an interesting journey where I constantly say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ or ‘I can’t believe that happened,’ or ‘I don’t remember that,’” Schaefer said. “I wish the book could be done tomorrow because I’m proud of the idea that we’re going to do this and excited that it can be documented.”

Both feel closer as family members after spending time working on the book, and Schaefer said she feels especially lucky to be telling her story to someone she trusts. She wants the book to convey that her trials are ongoing, and she must always work to overcome them.

“I’m trying to be as real as possible and just convey that it’s not like a success story because life will always be hard. It’s just about how life has ups and downs,” Schaefer said. “My hope is to inspire others to find hope in the faith that Christ has a purpose for all of us despite the valleys that we might find ourselves in. If I can just do that for one person, then it’s all worth it.”

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