ADDISON COUNTY — When Starksboro’s Jonah Rule, 32, died in a Fayston car crash at the end of June, he left behind his 28-year-old wife Caitlin and two young children, Austin and Callie.
Following the tragic incident, family and friends banded together to help the stay-at-home mother and her kids move forward. The Jonah Rule Memorial Fund was created, an online crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo.com was initiated and numerous fundraisers sprouted up.
After just over a month, these efforts have raised more than $30,000 for the fatherless family and have offered loads of much-needed support, said Jonah’s mother, Anne Rule.
Speaking on behalf of the Rule family, Anne expressed their overwhelming gratitude.
“I just don’t know what words to use,” she said. “The community has been there for us: the hugs, the outpouring of support, the love. People have been there for us. I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for everything they’ve done for us and for Caitlin.”
Spearheading the fundraising efforts was Erin Bettencourt, Jonah’s friend from Middlebury Union High School who grew up in Salisbury and now lives in Massachusetts.
The Indiegogo.com campaign she started raised $26,300 for the family in just a month. Of that amount, 4 percent goes to Indiegogo.com for the website’s services.
“It wasn’t just (the Addison County) community that gave, it was people all around the world,” said Bettencourt. “It was people who said, ‘I don’t know Caitlin. I didn’t know Jonah. But losing a father would be terrible. Here’s some help.’ It goes to show that the things you see in the mainstream news — all of the terrible things — aren’t the only thing that’s out there.”
In addition to Bettencourt’s crowdfunding campaign, Jason Quenneville and Tony Emilo organized a golf tournament at Middlebury College’s Ralph Myhre Golf Course, which raised more than $6,000. Middlebury Discount Beverage put out an empty jar for donations, and patrons contributed $800. Family member Karrie Provencher set up a People’s United Bank account to hold funds from people who didn’t want to donate over the Internet. Anne Rule said that account had more than $3,000 in it when she last looked. And two of Anne Rule’s granddaughters — Jonah’s nieces — organized a horse show at Twitchell Hill Farm to raise funds for the family.
Moving ahead, Bettencourt and some of her family members who live locally are hoping to organize a benefit dance and auction. Currently, they’re talking with Salisbury Community School officials about holding it at the school, said Bettencourt.
Throughout this dark time, a bright spot for the Rule family has been the outpouring of community support. For Jonah Rule’s funeral service on July 3 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Middlebury, Anne Rule said roughly 1,000 people showed up to offer their condolences to his family and pay homage to Jonah’s life.
Anne said she was blown away by the gesture.
“We knew that Jonah was loved. I’d have strangers come up to me on the street and compliment me on my son,” she said. “But I never imagined this. My daughter, my daughter-in-law-law and I have all said we couldn’t make it without the support of the community. People have been there for us for everything.”
Bettencourt in Massachusetts has been looking on in awe over the past month at the way the Addison County community has extended a helping hand to the injured Rule family.
“I think it’s amazing,” said Bettencourt. “I live 20 minutes north of Boston in a big town, and I don’t even know my neighbors. It makes me wish I was still in Middlebury.”
Bettencourt said that after watching the community rally around a family in need, she and her family are seriously considering moving to Addison County.
“We’ve just been talking about how it’s better for the kids being raised in such an amazing community,” she said.
As for Anne Rule, she’s not going anywhere.
“There are just no words to express our gratitude,” she said. “This community has come together for us. I would never leave this place.”
Anyone looking to reach out to the Rule family can contact Anne via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to the Jonah Rule Memorial Fund Facebook page at facebook.com/JonahRuleMemorialFund. Reporter Andrew Stein is at email@example.com.