Vigil offers hope, remembers those lost to addiction

Photos by Christine Stephenson/The Herald
A crowd of about 50 people lit candles Thursday to honor loved ones who have died of addiction at the fourth annual Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil. The event, sponsored by the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council, was at Holland American Legion Park.


HOLLAND — Just a few years ago, Mason Hartke would have never thought he would find happiness again.

Growing up, Hartke, of Holland, had a pretty normal childhood. He had a loving family and was dedicated to playing football and baseball at Southridge High School. He also started using in high school. By the time he was 18, he was heavily involved with drugs and alcohol — mostly the latter.

“I thought I was just doing what guys my age did,” he said to a crowd of about 50 people Thursday. “I’d like to be able to stand up here and tell you guys I was battling stuff, some kind of demons or issues with my life, but that wasn’t really the case. I really just liked having fun.”

One night in college, he drove up to Indiana University in Bloomington to party with some friends, just like what seemingly everyone else on campus was doing. When the night was over, he decided to get behind the wheel and caused a crash that killed three people.

“It changed my life forever,” he said. “It changed a lot of people’s lives forever.”

Hartke told his story at the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council’s fourth annual Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil at Holland American Legion Park. He told the crowd how he didn’t fight going to prison because he felt it was what he deserved. No one is immune from addiction, though.

Megan Durlauf, director of Dubois County Community Corrections, and her daughter, Raylin, light a candle for Jason Steckler of Huntingburg at the Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil at Holland American Legion Park on Thursday evening.

While Hartke was in prison, he enrolled in a substance abuse program. At first, he wasn’t hopeful.

“I thought there’s no chance anyone can do anything to help me,” he said. “I ended up being as wrong as wrong gets.”

He talked for days and nights with men facing similar problems. He started taking responsibility for his actions and yearned for a better life. He came out of the other end a changed person, he said.

For the past 10 months, Hartke has been sharing his story at similar events in hopes of holding himself accountable and helping others.

“It’s hard to fathom a situation where you’re back on track, you’re doing the right thing, your families are happy with you, you’re happy with yourself,” he said. “Hopefully by me doing these kinds of things and telling you guys about myself and my story, I can affect people who are going through some things. I’m hoping to make a change in myself, my community, anybody who’s struggling, anybody who wants a better life for themselves.”

Hartke was one of about 10 people who shared personal stories about addiction, either about themselves or their loved ones. Some shared stories of their journey to recovery, while others read poems about losing friends and family to overdose.

At the center of the event was a board full of sticky notes with names of lost loved ones. Nancy Eckerle, who co-founded the Substance Abuse Council, read the names out loud during a candlelight vigil to honor them. Attendees were invited to come up to the microphone and read any names that weren’t already mentioned.

One woman spoke about her sister who died from an overdose about 30 years ago. She grew teary-eyed thinking about how much her sister had missed but also how much support there is in the county now.

“Thirty years ago, we did not have any of this,” she said.

Jenna Bieker, the council’s coordinator, ended the event by offering some bits of hope. “We know that the need is not met” in terms of offering substance abuse resources in the county, she said. However, there are more being added every day, such as additional programs in schools and sober living homes that will soon be up and running.

Additionally, several of the speakers — including Josh Graves, who helped found Safe Haven in Paoli — emphasized how life-saving it can be to offer a helping hand when someone asks.

“Sometimes all it takes is for somebody to listen and care,” he said.

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