RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) - Among the dozens of friends, family and neighbors sifting through what was left of Riley County school district superintendent Brad Starnes' home Monday morning were several Riley County alums.
One of those alums just happens to play in the NFL.
Mary Starnes, Brad's wife, worked side by side in their water-logged basement with Jordy Nelson, boxing books and other items that may or may not be salvagable.
"Jordy was one of the first to get here," Mary Starnes said.
Much of Brad and Mary Starnes' life lies charred and soot stained on their lawn. Brad says they were in the living room with their 20-year old daughter just before 5:30 pm Sunday when the smoke alarm went off. A suspected electrical short near a garage refrigerator sent their home up in flames.
"Once it got to the attic, it was over," Starnes said. "(It felt) pretty helpless."
30 mile-per-hour winds fanned the flames thru the home, across a field and over the hill into a neighboring pasture. As quickly as the flames moved through, a legion of help moved in.
"It's been overwhelming the people who've come to help," Mary said.
Nelson, the Green Bay Packers wide receiver and Rile Co. alum had brought teammate Randall Cobb home with him for a local charity event when they saw the smoke.
"We always told them take one for the team and Jordy did," Brad said. "I just keep telling him don't get hurt! And Randall - he doesn't know us from boo and here he was pulling hoses."
Brad says it's amazing to think that the two players' livlihoods depend on their being healthy and uninjured and they were risking that to help the family.
In fact, Brad became emotional as he noted that all who came to help were risking their safety.
Riley County teacher and coach Kelly Hammel said people want to help. When something bad happens, he says, people pitch in because you know they'd do the same for you.
It's not necessarily the muscle, but their spirit that's lifting the Starnes. Nelson pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to Brad with a laugh. Brad looked at the title and exclaimed, "We might need this!" The book? A fix-it-yourself manual.
In a difficult time, the educators have learned their community knows a lesson that goes beyond any book. Brad says school may get hung up on tests and other things, but it's truly the human spirit - perseverance, cooperation and coming together - that you hope your students learn.
And, he knows firsthand, the students in Riley County certainly have.
A couple about to open a senior apartment facility down the road has offered the Starnes a place to stay.
Those wishing to assist the family should contact the USD 378 district office, 785-485-4000.