Michiana community pays respects to Rep. Jackie Walorski at funeral, burial services
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - Many said their last goodbyes on Thursday to Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski at her funeral and burial services.
Walorski, two of her staffers, and a Nappanee woman were killed in a crash in Elkhart County last week. Walorski served on the House Ways and Means Committee. She was first elected to represent Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District in 2012 after previously serving three terms in the state’s legislature.
There was a big turnout across Michiana on Thursday as family, friends, lawmakers, and the community honored and paid their respects to the late congresswoman.
LAWMAKERS AND DIGNITARIES ARRIVE FOR FUNERAL
People came from near and far to attend Walorski’s funeral service Thursday morning.
Two private planes carrying members of Congress arrived at South Bend International Airport ahead of the service. Two buses escorted them to Granger Community Church.
The funeral service began at 11 a.m. at Granger Community Church. Her visitation was held Wednesday.
Speakers included Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, Missouri 2nd District Congresswoman Ann Wagner, and Ohio 2nd District Congressman Brad Wenstrup.
Jackie’s husband, Dean Swihart, also delivered remarks, saying he’s touched by the outpouring of support and kindness that the family has received since her death. Meanwhile, Swihart, who is a music teacher with the School City of Mishawaka, also filled the church with music by playing the saxophone near the end of the service.
During his remarks, Swihart described what Jackie liked to do in the little spare time that she had. Shortly before the crash, Walorski called Swihart to say she was on her way home and was looking forward to cooling off in her backyard pool.
“She loved riding on her cool chopper bicycle that looked like a Harley Davidson,” Swihart said. “With her fists hanging from the monkey, what do you call them? The ape hangers. She loved pontooning. She loved palm trees. She loved privacy. She did so much traveling with Congress, she was happy to stay at home under our fake palm tree. And it was private enough in our backyard that we could swim and the world didn’t know, and it was just wonderful.”
Swihart also emphasized that she didn’t wait until the last minute to be good with God.
“Remember this is a celebration of life, because Jackie is not dead the way you would imagine,” Swihart said. “Right now, she’s more alive than all of us together. Put together in this room. She’s just at an alternate location. Right now, she knows fully the things we’re having trouble to comprehend.
“She lacked patience,” Swihart added. “She didn’t like it when we said she didn’t like to wait for anything. And I think her impatience has been proved out today. She just had to beat us all to heaven.”
Gov. Holcomb remembered Walorski, who referred to herself as a Happy Hoosier, as being optimistic, enthusiastic, and energetic during his remarks.
“The thing about Jackie is she walked the walk,” Holcomb said. “She was that patriot. Dare I say, I mean no offense to anyone, no one loved this country more than Jackie. Again, whether it was standing up for law enforcement or our veterans, those who were hungry or homeless, or needed a lift, I think that’s what stays with me as I process is this combination of passion and compassion.”
McCarthy said we can honor the life of Walorski by being a little more like her.
“To my members, (it) doesn’t mean you run the meeting, like Jackie did,” Mccarthy said. “That means you have the heart, passion, integrity and the faith. Not for a job, but to serve.”
Wagner was emotional at the end of her remarks.
“To my friends and colleagues in Congress, we have truly lost one of the best of us,” Wagner said. “We will honor the memory of Jackie Walorski by putting one foot in front of the next, in our service to God and country.”
Wenstrup agreed with Swihart’s sentiments about Walorski’s funeral being a celebration of life.
“The Devil of death cannot beat the God of eternal life,” Wenstrup said. “Jackie is in heaven. She flies with the angels, probably landing now to dip her feet in the pool.”
POST-FUNERAL SERVICE REACTION
Hundreds—if not thousands—of people turned out on Thursday to pay respects to Walorski.
16 News Now heard from those who paid their respects to the late congresswoman as they left the funeral service. Many who attended called Walorski a colleague, others considered her a friend, and some considered her both.
There was a strong presence from veterans—a group that Jackie tirelessly advocated for in her time in office. Jack Springgate spoke to one veteran in particular who received Jackie’s help on a much more personal level.
Joe Steenbeke and his dog, Tess, would not be together today if not for Walorski’s efforts. Joe was Tess’s original handler in the military, but when Joe moved on from the service, he and Tess were separated for more than five years.
Thanks to Walorski’s help, Joe and Tess were reunited following the dog’s retirement from a career sniffing out bombs. Three years later, Joe still can’t find the words to describe what Walorski’s efforts meant to his family.
“I still don’t know how to describe it, but it’s something she did to quite literally complete our family,” Steenbeke says.
There were also people who knew Jackie before she made her way to the Indiana Statehouse and to Washington, D.C. It’s those connections that really show how much she cared for the place she always called home.
“One of my favorite memories was being at an estate sale in Elkhart, and she and her mother came in,” says Jackie Clindaniel. “We’re like ‘Jackie, Jackie’, and I got to meet her mother. She was such a down-to-earth person. She was never that celebrity, that politician.”
One of the things most folks say they appreciated about Thursday’s service was that it shined a light on who Walorski was as a person above all else.
“The service was just fantastic,” says Linda Silcott. “God was glorified. This was such an important part of her life. Just everything about her—her commitment, her servant’s attitude—all of these things were just wonderful.”
The funeral was followed by a procession to Southlawn Cemetery, where Walorski was buried. There was also a Garrison Flag along the route at Jackson Road and Elm Road.
The community watched the procession at Grissom Middle School, where the public was advised to spectate. Dozens of community members lined the roads, holding signs and waving American flags as they said one last good bye to Walorski.
And while many who attended only knew her in passing or spoke with her briefly at an event sometime in the past, they say they felt compelled to attend.
“I just felt I had to, just in my heart, I had to be here to see it,” says Lori Young. “Jackie did a lot of stuff for the veterans, and we belong to a veterans group, the Combat Vets, so we just thought we should come out and pay our respects to her.”
Others who spoke with 16 News Now said Walorski was warm and welcoming. They also said she was always open to having a conversation and listening.
”She’s touched a lot of people,” says Curtis Kennedy. “Take all those values and add on to them and extend them out to other people. She was a kind-hearted soul, be a kind-hearted soul to others. She listened to people when they needed help the most. Listen to people when they need help the most. Take the things that you see that you enjoyed about Jackie Walorski, put them into yourself, and extend them into other people in the community.”
Meanwhile, those that had the opportunity to work with her and call her a friend say that Walorski was one of a kind and would be humbled by all of the community’s respect and support.
“I guess it was maybe 90 seconds after I talked to her,” says Roger Huizenga, a retired city judge from Walkerton who volunteered on Walorski’s campaigns. “She’s exceptional. She’s one of a kind. I still have my Jackie for Congress t-shirts, and I will keep them forever.”
Several others who attended Walorski’s procession said that her hard work and support for Hoosiers will not be forgotten.
“Thank you so much for all these years and all this time you have given to this community,” said community member Marjorie Deranek. “And the love and the compassion and the fight. I remember her smile. I loved her hair. Her hair was always this great, great style. She was so warm, and she was so friendly and inviting.”
When a sitting member of Congress dies, the ceremony looks like one held for a member of the military who dies in the line of duty.
More than a hundred people gathered at Southlawn Cemetery on Thursday afternoon for the graveside service, which included a flag fold, a gun salute, “Taps” and more.
A funeral caisson—which is a two-wheel, horse-drawn carriage that was originally used to transport ammunition during military battles and, when necessary, to transport the wounded or dead from the battlefield—led Walorski to her final resting place.
All military branches were represented when Walorski received full military honors, which was very fitting, considering how she fought to improve the lives of veterans and service members.
However, many others in the community were there to celebrate other aspects of Walorski’s legacy.
“We just remember Jackie’s work in the community, always at the GCC food drop or working with families with Right to Life,” says Todd Zeiger of South Bend. “Just such a community member. And today’s service was such a great sendoff for her and her great Christian faith. It just all meant a lot for us today, so we just wanted to come down and show our respects.”
Meanwhile, members of Walorski’s family said they were grateful for the support and kindness they’ve received since her death.
”Everyone has been absolutely wonderful,” says Anna Swihart Miller. “It feels so good to know so many people care. And our family consists of Dean, Jackie, my husband and I, and our son. She always came in, always gave us a hug, always ‘How you doing?’ To be united, it’s just the best feeling. It really is. It’s the best feeling.”
”Do you know we were in the funeral home yesterday, or in at church yesterday, and there was people coming through there that never even met her?” says David Walorski, Jackie’s brother. We tried to talk to a lot of people, and they would say things like ‘Well, I’m a nobody. I’m just a constituent. I love her, but I never met her.’ And that was that. That’s just kind of everybody you know.
“And I think as far as a community goes, we as a family would say thanks for all of this outpouring of support, for the military,” he added. “You know, the whole military send off, fitting, for her. And I think probably today, if you know if she could look over the rails of heaven with a few friends of ours up there, she’s probably looking down at that processional and she’s probably saying ‘Can you believe she is doing that for me?”
Jackie was buried near her father and grandfather.
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