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Maureen McMullen, Published October 12 2013

Benefit helps Hawley family devastated by July house fire

HAWLEY, Minn. – Kristin Bonham found no shortage of support from the community after a fire destroyed her family’s home here on July 29, claiming the life of her 15-year-old daughter, Rylie Efterfield.

“One good thing about being in a small community, this town’s been wonderful to us and to the kids and helpful in everything,” Bonham said.

On Saturday, about 900 friends, classmates and neighbors of Bonham and her five children, as well as others, gathered in support at a benefit in the Hawley Elementary School.

To raise money for the family, a variety of businesses and individuals in the community paid for the breakfast, silent auction, bake sale and “Remember Rylie Amber” T-shirt sale.

“Rylie was my best friend,” said Lexi Blakeway, 15, of Hawley, while manning the event’s T-shirt booth. “She was just a great, nice person. She just always had a smile on her face. She loved everyone.”

In the sea of blue “Remember Rylie Amber” T-shirts worn by benefit attendees, Bonham was pleased with the outcome of the benefit.

“It means a lot. The help is just overwhelming and phenomenal,” she said. “It’s better than I thought it would be.”

The family was also given donations from some employees of State Bank & Trust. Since 2007, the bank's Pay It Forward program has granted each full-time employee $1,000 and each part-time employee $500 to help an organization, individual or family in need.

“At Bell State Bank and Trust, we want to give back to the community which we serve, so we feel that the Pay It Forward program is a great way to help those in need,” said Jeanine Larson, a spokeswoman for the bank. “When we heard about the fire, 28 of us (Bell State Bank & Trust employees) all said, ‘Can we please help out this

family?’ ”

Unaware of the amount they would receive from the bank, the Bonham family was presented with a check for $10,800 and, with the help of Muscatell Burns Ford, keys to a new SUV, in lieu of the family’s recent car troubles.

Including the check from Bell State, the benefit raised close to $32,000. An unspecified portion of the money will be used to establish an annual scholarship in Rylie’s memory, while the remaining will help the family accommodate their immediate needs.

Cash donations to the family can still be made at Hawley State Bank. Although Bonham appreciated the financial support from the community, she said the emotional support has been helpful as well.

“People always ask what they can do,” said Bonham. “But, you know, the best thing for us has been to talk about Riley and everything people don’t want to talk about or think that it hurts. But I think the best thing we’ve had is just for everyone to talk about her.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Maureen McMullen at (701) 237-7311.