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West, Texas update: Faith

Holly Hillman Smith’s mother sent us some details about Holly and Kevin’s situation in West, Texas, and I asked her permission to pass along the news. Here it is. Jane–

"Faith" was all that was left on the Smith family walls

“Faith” was all that was left on the Smith family walls

Many of you have asked for an update on our daughter Holly and our son-in-law Kevin Smith. These have been incredibly busy, draining and emotional days. At left you’ll see a photo of the only item still hanging on the wall in Holly and Kevin’s home in West. I’m incredibly proud of them and their faith as they have claimed Psalm 46 (especially verses 1-3, 10-11).

But I need to go back to the beginning to give you some additional information and catch you up on faith, family, and friends. Kevin had come home last Wednesday evening and sat on the downstairs couch. Holly was still at GAs (Girls in Action), but he had promised her he would begin installing smoke detectors in the upstairs bedrooms. Their first home visit as a prelude to adopting a sibling group through CPS was scheduled for Thursday, April 25–the day before their 5th wedding anniversary. He decided he was too tired and would put it off. However, a still, small voice inside his head reminded him he had promised Holly and told him he should go upstairs. He persisted in sitting on the couch, but the still, small voice persisted. Eventually, he gave in, picked up the smoke detectors and headed upstairs.

Kevin had just opened the first box and was untying a twist-tie when the blast hit. It threw him about 10 feet backward and away from the outside wall that crumbled. A flash burn, which looks like a bad sunburn, went across his head, and tiny shards of glass hit his face making it feel like sandpaper with a few abrasions thrown in.

Smith home

What’s left of Holly and Kevin’s home

Kevin and Happy (the dog who survived the Bastrop fire at my sister’s house) slid down what  was left of the stairs. Happy headed out the gaping hole where the front door had been. Maxwell the cat hid. Kevin shook glass out of his boots, put them on, grabbed his cell phone, and left on foot to help. His pick-up was in the garage with dry wall on top of it. As an EMT/paramedic/RN, his first thought was others. He called Holly who had seen the explosion from the highway and was almost to West and told her to meet him at AirEvac. They got together and immediately headed for the West Nursing Home where Kevin and Holly in Holly’s SUV helped take several residents to the football field. Holly’s brother and his two business partners headed out to West and amazingly got through. They helped Holly get her vehicle out. Emergency personnel insisted that Kevin be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Fortunately, his injuries though quite uncomfortable were not serious, and he had no concussion–a miracle in itself.

Smith's Happy is lucky!

Smith’s Happy is lucky!

The following day (Thursday), a search and rescue team that included a couple that was in Holly and Kevin’s wedding found Maxwell the cat still hiding in the house. On Friday, Texas A&M veterinary students found Happy the dog. He was traumatized, suffered some hearing loss, re-injured a paw that had been burned in the Bastrop fires, and will need surgery. However, he’s still Happy though some have suggested his name be changed to Lucky.
Holly and Kevin’s house is in Phase 3 and has been red-tagged. It was about 100 yards across the railroad track from the fertilizer plant. However, unlike their next door neighbor’s, it didn’t burn and a few items are salvageable. Yesterday (Saturday, April 27) they were allowed in for the first time. When they got into the house, they discovered jagged pieces of metal and wood in the exact spot Kevin always sits on the couch. We’re grateful for that still, small voice and for Holly’s strong brother and his wonderful friends who took their pick-ups and helped. Kevin Smith’s Facebook page includes photos…(try Kevin Smith West EMS to find him).

You may have seen Kevin’s father, Dr. George “Doc” Smith, on the news (here is a link to one story I’ve seen: Jane–). The building that housed his medical practice was also in phase 3 as was their house–though it is yellow-tagged rather than red-tagged. So Kevin not only lost the first home he and Holly owned but also the home in which he grew up.

But things are not the most important things. Friends are. They knew and Kevin had worked with 13 of the 14 first responders who died through his volunteer work with the West Ambulance Service. Had he been on call that Wednesday evening, he would have been one of them. But Cyrus Reed and Kevin Sanders were the two on the ambulance that went with the fire trucks to the fertilizer plant. Baptist General Convention of Texas chaplains were available in the aftermath, and Kevin is thankful for one special chaplain.

Buying clothes for Holly to wear to 13 funerals and a memorial service that included the President and the Governor was one of the few ways I could tangibly help. My daughter asked me to do that without her, and then she and I together shopped for funeral clothes for her mother-in-law to wear.

Thursday was a difficult day for Holly and Kevin, but Friday was possibly the hardest. The two laid to rest that day included their two favorites and the ones they knew best–Cyrus Reed whom I had met and loved as they did and Joey Pusteovsky whom Kevin went to West schools with all the way from 1st grade through high school graduation.

Next week will bring the final funerals, lots of tasks people don’t think about unless they find themselves homeless, and an attempt in some way to find routine in a life that’s anything but normal and won’t be for a long, long time.

Along with Holly and Kevin, John and I are grateful for your love and prayers, your e-mails and cards, and your generous spirits.

Blessings, Kathy Hillman (Holly’s mother)

“Therefore, since we have been justified through FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by FAITH into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:1-4.

Kathy and Holly

Kathy and Holly


About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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