After each losing a son in the span of nearly two months, two Vermillion women are…
by David Lias Laura Hollingsworth and Sue Groves likely would love one another, even if they weren't sisters.
They share a special relationship � defined not just by their family heritage.
"Sue and I have grown up together, we've been in business together," Laura said. "If we weren't sisters, we'd be best friends."
The two women grew up in Vermillion, they married men from the community, they each were blessed with boys and proudly watched them grow into young men.
Fate's cruel nature
This summer, Laura and Sue, their families and a wide circle of friends have watched, heartbroken, as, one by one, their two sons have been snatched away from them.
The cruel nature of fate isn't lost upon the Groves and the Hollingsworths. The two close-knit families lost their young men in similar fashions � in fatal traffic accidents.
"It's just odd that we have this now � that we have this in common as well," Laura said.
Michael Groves, 24, the son of Sue and Steven Groves, died June 19 in a car crash.
Nearly two months later, Michael's cousin, Matthew, 21, the son of Laura and Tom Hollingsworth, died in a rollover accident north of Vermillion Aug. 12.
Benjamin Brettell, 17, Arlington, TX, also was killed. Lori Turner of Arlington, TX, received critical injuries. Emily Pier, 18, Vermillion, was able to walk away from the scene to get help.
She has been hospitalized in Sioux Falls with non-life threatening injuries.
Last Friday evening, the parking spaces near Hansen Funeral Home quickly filled with the autos of Matthew's family and friends, who brought flowers, cards, hugs and prayers for the Hollingsworths.
The parking shortage didn't pose a problem. People simply pulled into Vermillion High School's lot across the street, where Matthew was a member of the class of 2000.
Michael graduated from VHS in 1997.
In a voice strained by heartache hours before Matthew's memorial service, Laura talked about her son. She talked about how a family's life can instantly become filled with despair.
"I don't know how anyone can feel a hurt deeper than this," she said.
She noted that Matthew's death no doubt rekindled similar painful feelings within her sister.
But most of all, she talked about hope.
Despite the intense grief being felt by the two families, Laura is certain they will endure.
"I'll tell you what ? when you get back to this community, we are so lucky," Laura said. "You take things for granted, but man, this community is really something ? it's really something."
"It's such a tragedy and what makes it even more of a tragedy is that Ben is gone and Matthew is gone," Laura said, referring to the Aug. 12 accident, "but we also endured (the loss of) our nephew, Michael Groves, just a few weeks ago.
"Tom and I, in talking with people, want to emphasize so badly how many people have been lost lately, and how our family has been affected," she added. "These kids have got to get smart ? and learn from these things. These are tragic signs of what kids need to learn and do."
Young people, and those who care about them, need to realize the cruel real-life lessons that can be found when one examines what has happened to the two Vermillion families.
"This is real life, and it can happen to anybody," Laura said. "Lightning can strike twice. They (our young people) just need to be smart and realize how easily this can happen."
Although Michael was three years older than Matthew, the two had a strong relationship.
"The were close cousins in life, and it's scary how much things have paralleled here," Laura said.
"What my husband and I keep saying is of course we knew him the longest," Laura said of her son. "And we knew the absolute, beautiful person that he was. But he's even
Continued on page 10
larger than we knew from what we've been hearing from everyone else."
The Hollingsworths have discovered that people outside of the family noticed traits in Matthew that can be obscured by familiarity.
"People saw even more things in him than we did," Laura said. "He has grown even larger in death than he was in life, because we're getting all of these stories, these descriptions of Matt.
"You're so proud of your child, and when you hear things like this, they just become larger in life again," she said. "We're just grateful to know that."
The Hollingsworths learned in the days following the tragic accident Aug. 12 that Matthew was a "protector."
"With his sisters, his friends ? he was just always a good listener and wanted to help people as much as he could," Laura said.
Laura said her son talked about getting a tattoo someday. It would be in Chinese lettering, and simply state "Be True."
Those two words, she said, were his motto in life.
"Be true to yourself � that was something he always said to everybody," Laura said.
Brooke Nelson, 18, of Vermillion, got to know Matthew through her friendship with his younger sister, Morgan.
In the last year, that friendship intensified. One of Brooke's good friends is Emily Pier, and Emily and Matthew were dating.
"The three of us were together all of the time, boating, hanging out at my house, and we were together a lot, especially this summer," Brooke said.
Matthew was over six feet tall with a deep voice, Brooke said.
"But he was a just a huge teddy bear," she said. "He was so gentle and so nice. He couldn't hurt anyone.
"He was very protective of his friends, of his family, of his girlfriend and sisters, and he'd just do anything for anybody to protect them," Brooke said. "He didn't like people being mean to each other. He didn't like that one bit."
She described him as a gentleman, the type of young man that a daughter would be happy to introduce to her parents.
Matthew wasn't a big jokester, she said, but he could find ways to make you laugh. He also could be serious and reflective.
"You could have heart-to-heart talks, and he was very enlightening," Brooke said. "He loved to talk. We'd sit out on our porch, Emily and Matt and I, and we'd just talk for hours.
"Things with the family were going great, things with Emily were going great and he had a really great summer," she said. "And then this had to catch us by surprise."
Steven Groves struggled to find the right words to describe the tragic circumstances experienced by the two Vermillion families.
"It's just unbelievable is what it is," he said. "It's the only word I can come up with."
Steven and Susan Groves, and their family and friends have been able to deal with Michael's June death in much the same way the Hollingsworths are coping with their loss.
"Where do I begin? It's hard for me to put into words ? this community, the people we have lived around for all of our lives," Steven said, "the younger people all the way up to a filling station representative or an EMT ?
"I've tried to explain to them not so much our sad feelings, but rather our feelings towards this community," he said. "You don't realize what's out there. You kind of have it in the back of your mind, but when something like this happens to you, the community support just blows you away."
The community's reaction, he said, is sustaining both families. Even though it was early summer when Michael was laid to rest in BluffView Cemetery, Steven said Vermillion is still being incredibly supportive to his family.
He's certain the Hollingsworths, who held funeral services for Matthew last Saturday, will also be recipients of the city's caring people.
"It's unbelievable. And it doesn't stop. It grows after an incident like this, and I think it will continuously be that way," Steven said. "There's a constant flow of it on a daily basis. It makes it so much more of a relief. It's a comforting thing."
Steven operates Groves Excavation in Vermillion. It's a family business, and up until last June, it was largely a father-son operation.
"Michael worked with me for most of his high school years, and right alongside of me until this summer," Steven said.
Lifetime of memories
It's not unusual for young people to leave the nest after high school, he said, to start lives of their own a distance away.
Steven is grateful that Michael chose to continue to make his home in Vermillion.
"I've got a lifetime of what a lot of people don't have. I'm so appreciative of that," he said. "I was very lucky to be able to work and have that every day with my son. That was good. I got to grow up with my kids.
"We enjoyed each other," Steven said. "We enjoyed playing softball together. I was just as much a part of his life as he was a part of mine."
Steven said Michael was not outspoken, but also was not a restricting type of person.
"He was very helpful. Even if he couldn't help, he would just do as much as he could for anyone," he said, "and I think that's what drew people to him."
Steven describes his son as a young man with "real good morals. And he was a real hard worker.
"And Michael and I were as good of friends as we were father and son," he said.