Mourners pay final respects to teen killed in crash
BY STEVE METSCH Sun-Times Media March 17, 2013 7:30PM
Mourners console one another as they gather at the visitation for Micalah Sembach at Freitag-Reeves & Baskerville Funeral Home in Wilmington, Illinois, Sunday, March 17, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:26AM
Friends and relatives of Micalah Sembach will long remember the way she befriended everyone she met.
“She never met a stranger,” said her godmother, Rita Johns, of Plainfield.
JoAnne Jostes of Wilmington nodded in agreement.
“Micalah had this special light that touched everybody. If she was here right now, you would love her. She was always concerned about someone’s feelings. If you looked sad, she was the kind of girl who would walk up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Micalah. Are you sad? I can give you a hug,’ ” Jostes said.
They spoke about her Sunday afternoon outside the Freitag-Reeves & Baskerville Funeral Home, 700 East Kahler Road in Wilmington.
Micalah, 15, was one of four teens who drowned after their car crashed through a guardrail and plunged into Forked Creek. The crash probably took place Monday evening, and the car was found Tuesday morning. Cody Carter, 15, Matthew Bailey, 14, and Cheyenne Fender, 17, died with Micalah.
On Sunday, at the final visitation for the four, there was a steady stream of mourners. The turnout was so large, an attendant directed drivers to park on a grassy lot beside the paved lot.
“Wilmington takes care of their own. They’ve been really great to the family. She loved this town, everything about it,” Johns said.
That includes Catfish Days, the annual summer festival.
“Micalah was the only kid I knew who would eat boiled catfish,” Johns said.
In keeping with Micalah’s bubbly personality, her parents, Margot and Mike, asked mourners to celebrate her life. They wanted people to wear clothing that was comfortable and colorful. That’s why Johns wore a T-shirt that featured a photo of Micalah wearing a friend’s glasses and a fake mustache.
“She was spirited,” Johns said.
The relaxed atmosphere explained the large bowls filled with Gummi Bears and containers of Mountain Dew that greeted visitors.
Johns took issue with news reports that the four youths were reported missing at midnight Monday. Micalah’s mother, she said, called the police shortly after 5:30 p.m. Monday and told them her daughter was a half-hour late getting home.
Micalah often was in the Jostes’ home because she and Val Jostes, 13, “were the best of friends,” JoAnne Jostes said.
It wasn’t unusual for Micalah to head straight for the kitchen when she visited, especially if Jostes was cooking soup.
“I’m old school. A lot of times, even in the summer, a pot of soup would be cooking. She’d come in from the pool and ask ‘Is that soup done yet?’ She’d sit down at the kitchen table with her crackers and her soup. Everybody else could play and she’d be there for at least one bowl of soup,” Jostes said with a smile.
Chicken noodle and beef vegetable barley were her favorites.
“When she was little, 2, 3 years old, she’d ask for candy. And she’d always spit it out. She didn’t like candy then, but she heard kids asking for candy. She wanted her vegetables, and she would try anything. She loved her trees (broccoli). She liked escargot. She liked sushi,” Johns said.
Back when Micalah was 7 or 8, Johns took her and another goddaughter to Florida to swim with the dolphins.
“She used to want to be a dolphin trainer when she grew up. But lately she said she wanted to become a robotic engineer,” Johns said.
She and others spoke about Micalah outside the funeral home. The family requested that reporters not enter. Inside, mourners said, were boards filled with photos of Micalah and her family through the years.
Micalah was an only child, Johns said. She was in the Wilmington High School color guard and the marching band, playing oboe and clarinet, Jostes said.
One of her many friends, Jake Knight, 14, was overcome with emotion after leaving the visitation. His grandmother, Maryan Knight, of Shorewood, sat beside him on a bench, rubbing his back as he covered his face with his hands.
“Micalah was a very sweet girl, lovable. She was so friendly, very outgoing. This is very hard. I can’t imagine having to bury your child. Your children should bury you,” Maryan Knight said.
One of Micalah’s cousins, Kevin Somers, 18, of Lake Zurich, said the family is doing the best it can.
“Everybody has been very strong,” Somers said. ”I have very fond memories of spending holidays with her. She will be dearly missed.”
Memorials may be made to the Wilmington High School Music Boosters, 209U Wildcat Court, Wilmington, IL 60481.