Slices of Life: Area families struggle to find life after a soldier's death

Robin Scholz /The News-Gazette

Connie Bickers sheds tears at the memorial she has built in the front yard of their home in rural St. Joe on Thursday, May 15, 2008.

By Jonathan Jacobson -- Connie Bickers gave me simple directions to her house in St. Joseph, but the country roads in central Illinois all look the same and in the pitch black of a winter evening I get lost. I find her house when I see a memorial road sign labeled "Cory Hubbell Way." The sign was dedicated last October (2007) by Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn in honor of Bickers' son, who died while serving in Kuwait in 2003. He is the reason I'm here.

"Can I show you Cory's room?" Connie asks, leading me into a space filled floor to ceiling with memorabilia from her son's life. Awards and recognitions, his Army boots and his uniforms, an old football he tossed around in the desert signed by members of his unit, memorial quilts knitted by military mothers to honor his service, and Connie's collection of at least 30 angels that she began assembling after Cory's death at 20 years old.

"He was my angel," she says, fighting back tears.

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This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.”