By VIRGINIA BLACK
South Bend Tribune
5:15 PM EST, November 17, 2012
SOUTH BEND -- Raymond Compton Sr. chuckles when he tells the story of how his wife jumped at a stranger's offer to whisk them away from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
The Comptons -- Raymond, his wife, Jacqueline, and their four young children -- were staying in a small shelter about 200 miles from New Orleans in September 2005 when a South Bend woman arrived with a bus and a plan to bring back as many refugees as she could.
"She said, 'Would anybody be ready to relocate?' And before I could ask the lady 'Where?' my wife was saying, 'Yeah!' " Raymond Compton recalls now, laughing at the memory. "She said, 'I don't care where.' "
The family hasn't regretted the move or leaving their former home, he says, although the cold remains a drawback for the southern man still wearing a pair of shorts in his chilly rental home last week.
Yet the Comptons have endured one setback after another in their seven years here, including watching a man collapse on the doorstep of one home after being shot, and being burned out of another.
None of those was as challenging as their most recent setback will be: Jackie died unexpectedly last week, a month after turning 36.
Raymond, who can easily tear up one minute and then laugh at a story about his headstrong wife the next, says about the family's struggles, "The old saying is, 'It gets so bad it can't get worse.' It has to get better. I hope to see the day that it does."
And the South Bend woman whose face was the first the Comptons saw as they descended from that bus says she will be there for them through this trial, too.
'I thanked God'
Alesia King was a rental-home property manager when she heard a local news report that a woman was organizing a bus trip to relocate Katrina refugees to South Bend.
So she and her boss at the time decided to use one of their houses for a family, accepting community donations for improvements and furniture for the four-bedroom home and food for the family.
"It was a nice house," Raymond says before he exaggerates a bit, "and I'm telling you, it had five or six years' worth of food."
King was in the parking lot that afternoon in 2005 when the bus pulled up, and she approached the first family she watched come off the bus.
"The first thing we saw was her face," Raymond says. "When the door opened, she was right there."
And she's been there since, helping the family with legal issues and to navigate a system they don't always understand.
Two strokes had left 65-year-old Raymond unable to work. Jackie suffered her entire life with cerebral palsy and severe asthma, later adding high blood pressure to her list of ailments.
King, 44, married and with grown children of her own, says she adopted the Comptons as part of her family.
After the Comptons left the bus, they noticed their oldest child, 10-year-old Johnese, was ill and in pain. King accompanied the family to the hospital -- where the girl was diagnosed with appendicitis and scheduled for surgery -- and then to their new home.
"I made a commitment when they got off the bus to be there for them," King says. "I've always tried to honor that."
Raymond's grown daughter, Hazel Bankston, who was visiting last week from New Orleans, remembers being skeptical when Raymond and Jackie would talk during phone conversations over the years about King's involvement with them. But watching King interacting with the family at Jackie's bedside this week has reassured her.
"You know, certain people, God has put them there," Bankston says, turning to speak to King and then to a reporter. "I realized then who she was, and why she was there, and I thanked God for putting her there."
'He's been helping'
King was there to help when, several months ago, Louisiana Medicaid officials contacted the family for more information they couldn't provide and then Indiana canceled Medicaid.
With King's help, the aid was restored a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Jackie had gone without most of her medications, Raymond says.
About 3 a.m. Nov. 5, Jackie called Raymond's name before she passed out. Paramedics were able to restore her breathing before taking her to a hospital, but she never regained consciousness.
The family says doctors told them that although they don't know what caused the episode, the brain damage was extensive. They took her off life support Tuesday, and she quickly died.
Raymond tears up, sitting in the family's sparse living room, a space heater on the floor next to him.
He knows Bankston and King will help him take care of the children. But he worries about how he'll be able to afford a funeral for the woman he married 14 years ago, who, despite their age difference and her health problems, was larger than life.
Her memorial service will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Cobb Funeral Home.
They describe how Jackie hugged people all the time, the couple's fierce Crazy 8 card games, her kindness and generosity.
"I'll never find a woman like her again, I know. She was just about everything I expected," Raymond says.
"She always had a good spirit and wanted to give you peace," King adds.
How will the family heal from another setback?
"You pray and ask the Lord to help us through. That's what I've been doing all my life, praying to help us through this situation," Raymond says of the family's rough road. "And he's been helping. I know he has."
Contact Virginia Black:
Copyright © 2013, South Bend Tribune