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Wendy Reuer, Published January 14 2014

Waitress's $6,000 tip helps cover tuition at ND Bible college

FARGO – Two customers of a Lincoln, Neb., Cracker Barrel were hoping to make a grumpy server laugh.

Instead, they got the restaurant’s cheeriest server – a North Dakota college student – and made her cry.

Trinity Bible College freshman Abigail Sailors had returned to Nebraska after her first semester at the Christian college in Ellendale. She was planning to stay until next fall because she would need to work full time to save enough money to return.

Then a couple – who wished to remain anonymous – stopped at the Cracker Barrel on Jan. 2. They asked for the restaurant’s “grumpiest server.”

They were told there was no such thing, and instead they would get the joint’s happiest server: Sailors.

Sailors said they started asking her why she was so happy, trying to guess what in her childhood had created her sunny disposition, starting with family.

“I wasn’t just pouring my heart out for no reason – they kept asking,” Sailors said.

She reluctantly relayed a summarized version of her life story in between taking orders and pouring refills. They found out her cheer wasn’t inherited. It was earned through a life of hardship.

The youngest of five children, Sailor’s mother never fully recovered from a brain injury she received in a car accident when Sailors was just 7 months old.

Her father was eventually deemed an unfit parent, and Sailors and her siblings were split up and shuttled between foster homes. At one of those homes, she says the children endured years of abuse by a foster father who would later be imprisoned.

But then she found the home of John and Susie Sailors. The siblings were reunited, and the couple became her saving grace, part of the reason she chose to take their name in September 2012.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Sailors said.

She also revealed she was taking time off as a student at Trinity, where she was studying ministry and psychology, was a member of the basketball team and worked two jobs.

The diners finished their meal and asked Sailors for her full name. As she walked away, she looked at the tip and started to cry.

Inside were two checks: one for $5,000 written out to Trinity College and a second for $1,000 for Sailors to use as she wished.

“I haven’t cried those kind of tears in a long time. They were happy tears,” she said. “I’m still in shock, and it’s a week later.”

As fate would have it, the curious customer was also a Trinity College grad, one of only about 75 each year.

“I mean it’s all just, wow, they weren’t even supposed to sit in my section. Then on top of it they’re a graduate of Trinity,” Sailors said.

This week, Sailors will return to school and to the basketball team.

Trinity head basketball coach Rachael Nowell said Sailors cheery personality is infectious. Usually the first to make everyone laugh, Sailors would have been sorely missed this season, Nowell said.

“It’s neat for her just because she has been through so much. She doesn’t let those circumstances get her down,” Nowell said.

Sailors said she doesn’t know how she will use the $1,000 yet, though likely for education. She will, however, continue to work outside of school.

“I’m not going to not work; I wouldn’t be able to do that. It would just feel weird,” Sailors said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530