By David Lias
Holding back sobs, but with a firm voice, Anna Cable thanked God for the gift of Madison Wallace as she presented the invocation at the Vermillion teen’s funeral service Tuesday night.
“Thank you for the many blessings … and for the honor and privilege of brushing lives with this remarkable young woman,” Cable said in her prayer that began the night’s services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Vermillion.
Madison, 16, drowned in the Big Sioux River last Thursday as she attempted to rescue her younger brother, Garrett, after he slipped into the icy water during a family outing to Falls Park in Sioux Falls.
A bystander, Lyle Eagletail, 28, of Sioux Falls, also entered the river Thursday evening to help the two siblings, and lost his life in the river. Crews recovered Madison’s body Friday afternoon, and located Eagletail’s body in the churning river Saturday.
The crowded church, filled with the young woman’s friends, family and fellow community members, learned how she often thought of others rather than herself, and that a disability made her more determined to work hard and be curious.
Margaret Knaphus, Wallace’s grandmother, read a life sketch describing her granddaughter’s character and personality. Madison was described as a “gifter.”
“She showed her love by sharing her friendship, and with homemade gifts,” Knaphus said. “There were eight in the family, so she was always busy.”
She loved to crochet, to make hair clips and homemade greeting cards. Madison also mastered origami, Knaphus said, and with her zest for life, loved to go bike riding, rollerblading and rock climbing.
During a family visit to Cascade Park near Orem, UT, “Madison loved to climb tall trees quite often and watch her family try to find her,” Knaphus said, causing laughter to roll through the church.
“She would often call her brother, Corbyn, over and tell him she had a secret to share,” Knaphus said, reading text prepared by Madison’s mother, Lara. “She would whisper in his ear, ‘I love you.’
“Madison wanted to make it clear that she loved us,” her grandmother said, “by telling us often and by showing us whenever she could.”
She underwent therapy as a youngster to help improve her communication skills and cognitive ability.
“She wanted so much to do well in school,” Knaphus said. “Her teachers always commented on her work ethic. Madison just gave her all to everything she does. She loved her teachers in Vermillion.”
Her school activities included playing the French horn in the high school band.
“She loved being in the (Vermillion High School) marching band. She loved everything about it,” Knaphus said.
She also auditioned this year for the South Dakota Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.
“She desired to reach out to people and share the things that were exciting to her,” Knaphus said.
Madison’s life sketch includes a quote from Jenkin Lloyd Jones to give listeners a greater perspective her life and the outlook the Wallace family has adopted as they cope during this time of sadness and loss:
“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”
The importance of faith
Lidia Dotson, Madison’s seminary teacher, also spoke at Tuesday’s service. She began taking the religious classes last year, early in the morning, along with several other students, many of who were loud and outgoing.
“Last year, I never heard her speak,” Dotson said. This year, in a much smaller class, “she found her voice.”
Dotson said Madison always showed up at least 15 minutes early for class. “This is the time I really got to know Madison,” she said.
This year, Dotson’s course of study is the New Testament, and she chose to teach the four gospels independently, meaning Madison and her classmates heard the stories of Christ’s life, suffering and resurrection repeatedly.
“She was a keen student this year,” the teacher said. “She was always anxious to put into action what she had learned.”
During one of those quiet moments early in the morning, Dotson said Madison told her about an important lesson she had just learned from her grandmother.
“She shared with me that her grandmother had told her the most important thing she could do is attend seminary and pay attention,” Dotson said. “And she had changed after that. She was so sincere in her pursuit.
“She would ask questions, and I found myself reaching deeply that I might find a way to let her know the things that were important,” she said. “Teaching Madison was a humbling experience. I could not be unaware of the way her heavenly father and my heavenly father wanted me to teach. She knew that she was a child of God … and that when she came to life on this earth, it was with a purpose.”
Madison, Dotson said, was fully aware that people are not perfect, and of the need for repentance.
“She absolutely trusted her Father in Heaven,” she said. “Madison knew that she could be confident in all that she attempted to do.”
At times, Dotson’s voice strained with emotion as she recalled her young student.
“I have no sense of sorrow for Madison,” she said. “She was good with God. She was where she needed to be.”
Matt Fairholm, the president of the congregation, thanked the young people in attendance, many of whom were classmates at Vermillion High School. “While we mourn her physical absence, we celebrate her new life with the Heavenly Father … Madison’s sweetness and goodness brings us together tonight because we love her and respect her.”
Fairholm admitted that he “didn’t know all of the answers,” when tragedy strikes, or when contemplating what made Madison so willing to love and sacrifice.
“My part of that answer is that Madison knows that God lives,” he said. “She always knew that, through her faith and her relationship with Christ … “That her life was cut short is difficult for us to grasp, but we know that her mission beyond the veil continues. She knew that she was a daughter of God.”