When McEachern football star Rajaan Bennett was killed four years ago in a fatal shooting, the Powder Springs populace rallied around his family, the Indians’ football team and the school to help one another cope with the loss and keep his memory alive.
The same outpouring has also been felt for the past eight years at Pope, which has hosted the AJO4LAX Fest. It benefits the Andrew Oswald Memorial Fund, in memory of the Greyhound lacrosse program’s all-time leading scorer, who died in 2005 of injuries sustained in a car accident.
Most recently, Pope banded together for a fundraising run to support Christine Dahlhauser, an assistant cross country and track and field coach who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.
On Saturday, the McEachern community came together again with a fundraiser dinner for John Waldon, a former football, wrestling and track and field standout who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2013.
The event — “McEachern Strong for John Waldon” — included auctions and a donation basket to help the family cover medical expenses. John, wife Tedra and their three children, 18-year-old Alexius, 15-year-old Elijah and 14-year-old Karysma — all of whom were or are McEachern students — were very grateful for the way their Powder Springs neighbors stepped up to offer assistance.
“We’ve been blessed,” said John Waldon, a 1991 graduate of McEachern. “We’ve had people come out and they’ve been helping through this school. We’ve been blessed by every one of them.”
The Waldons have had more than their fair share of trials and tribulations over the years.
When John Waldon was shot in the head in 2001, the McEachern community came together to support the family. Now, Tedra Waldon, who also graduated from McEachern in 1991, takes ulcer medication to help maintain her health.
“It means a lot (to have the support),” Tedra Waldon said, “especially with both of us being born and raised here, with this being where we grew up, and a lot of people we grew up with coming together to help us. It means a lot.
“Both of (John’s) tragedies happened around our class reunions, so we weren’t able to go to either the 10-year class reunion or the 20-year class reunion. So now, to be able to come together and have some people come home to see us, or to send us some love because we weren’t able to see them is a great feeling, it’s great to see them.”
Peggy Vanzant, a 1965 McEachern graduate, helped organize the fundraiser.
“My son, Brian, and John were classmates and teammates,” she said. “The 1991 class was close, and the parents were close, and John was such a sweet, spirited and friendly guy. He was well-liked.
“He had to learn to walk and talk again after he was shot, and the 1991 class started sending money into John McEachern Memorial United Methodist Church to help the family pay for expenses and food and meals and help with the children. Coming together to support them after his cancer diagnosis is an extension of that.”
The sentiment behind the event wasn’t lost on Tedra Waldon.
“This community rallies in hard times,” she said. “It seems like you start feeling like you’re forgotten, and the next thing you know, here they come. The Indians come together and they rally around you and give you all that love, whether you ask for it or not. It’s a great feeling.”
“I’m loving it. I’m loving it,” John Waldon said. “I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Vanzant. They’ve helped us a lot. They’re the ones to give us a chance to see everybody and to see how much they care.”
McEachern athletic director Jimmy Dorsey, who coached the school’s football team from 1984-2007, remembers Waldon from his playing days on the gridiron.
“John was older and Jason, his other brother, was a linebacker for us and John played defensive back,” Dorsey said. “It just goes back to family. (His) mom and dad (were) here (Saturday). They’re just special people that have been a big part of our community for years.
“They’re great kids. We all hate to see what John’s had to go through in his life, but it’s really a testament to his toughness. That’s the way he played football and ran track here. For him to go through what he’s gone through in his life, and still have a smile on his face like he does (Saturday), that makes him pretty special in my book.”
Through Saturday’s fundraising and donations made through the CaringBridge website, approximately $8,000 was raised for the Waldon family, according to Vanzant.
“I’ve told people, for all these years that I’ve been here, that’s what makes this school so special,” Dorsey said. “We have some tremendous families and tremendous kids, and it’s what makes this community so unique. Everybody kind of looks after each other. There’s a lot of tradition. A lot of these kids’ parents went to school here. Their ancestors went to school here, and Powder Springs just has that small-town feel in the middle of a metropolitan area. It makes it unique.
“I’ll be honest with you. It’s one reason why I wanted to stay here and raise my kids here and make sure they went to this school. I feel the same way 30-plus years later.”