Pastor Nate Ferguson of Village Christian Church in Minooka said when he spoke of the story in the Bible of the man who built his house upon a rock and, when the rains came, it stood strong, it was reminiscent of his members Mark and Jess Smith.
The passage from Matthew 7:24-25 in the Bible reads, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
On Nov. 9, Mark Smith of Channahon took his last breath at Joliet Area Community Hospice at the age of 29.
According to his mother, Christi Smith, Mark had experienced intense headaches in February of 2016, sought medical care where a [thought to be] benign tumor was found on his brain. After several procedures to relieve pressure, he was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer in May.
In June, Mark was moved to Our Lady of Angels nursing home in Joliet for critical care, and then spent the last five weeks of his life in hospice.
Mark grew up in Channahon, where he was an athlete in basketball, baseball and track. He graduated from Minooka Community High School in 2005 and attended the University of Illinois, where he received a teaching degree, and then began his teaching back at MCHS, where he also coached track and field.
“Mark was a huge goofball as a kid. He was always clowning around, and when he got older he was a talented athlete. He didn’t know what he wanted to do in college, but after he helped as a camp counselor at Channahon Park District, he realized he loved kids,” Christi said.
After college, Jess, whom he met in junior high, became his bride and the couple resided in Channahon. Four years ago, they welcomed a daughter named Cora. While Mark was in treatments, Jess was pregnant with their second child, Livia, which she delivered in May.
Jess said she likes to be in control and be prepared, saying God prepared her and Mark for this moment five years ago when they went back to the church.
“If I would have known in August, when I found out I was pregnant with Livia, that Mark would be going to Heaven but go through Hell for nine months first, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Jess said. “God shielded us because there is no preparation for something like this.”
Mark taught Geology at MCHS and took life as a role model seriously, according to his mother Christi.
“He didn’t approach anything without love. He made people feel important. He was at a banquet for 150 kids and he had something to say to each one of them. He lived a huge, full, loving life at such a young age,” Christi said. “Some of us may live to 90 and never live that full of a life.”
The communities of Minooka and Channahon, where Mark grew up and taught rallied around the family in a big way. MCHS Head Boys Track and Field coach Nick Lundin, along with his wife and coworkers, ordered apparel with the #SmithStrong logo to sell, to get the ball rolling.
A #SmithStrong Web site and Facebook page were created, as business owners and members of the community hosted bowling, restaurant, yoga, haircut, run/walk, and basketball fundraisers. A benefit was hosted at Joliet Area Historical Museum, while kids sold lemonade on street corners, baseball teams took collections at grocery stores and even a car was raffled.
“The countless number of people that came out to help the family was incredible. All of these people were spokes to the wheel of the community,” Lundin said.
“So many people we know hunkered down with us. People who know life gets hard walked through the darkness with us. Mark had a belief and a trust in God, love for life, family and friends. He had a positive outlook on life and the promises of God to the very end,” Jess said.
Saturday Nov. 12- Public Prayer Service doors open at 4 p.m., service at 5 p.m.
Sunday Nov. 13- Student Prayer Service 6 p.m.
The Village Christian Church
8965 S. Bell Road, Minooka