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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Giving goes on in teen's memory

Friday, December 24, 2004

Brenda Sorrells, mother of the late Courtney Sorrells, holds a plaque given to her during the renaming of the Angel Tree Christmas Party to the Courtney's Angel Tree Party.
SIKESTON -- It's hard to find a reason to show any holiday cheer at Stan and Brenda Sorrells' home this year.

The usually festive Sikeston house isn't clad with outside Christmas lights or decorations. And there's no Christmas tree inside either.

But the Christmas spirit is there. And signs of giving are definitely visible.

Taking the place where decorations might normally vacate are piles and piles of toys -- toys to be distributed to local needy children for Christmas, a tradition initiated by the couple's only daughter, Courtney, seven years ago.

"She would pick out toys herself and always tried to get something she thought the kids would like," said Courtney's mother.

Sadly, this is the first Christmas Courtney isn't participating in the tradition. In August, the 18-year-old was killed in a car wreck near Cape Girardeau.

So this Christmas -- a time Courtney lived for, according to her mother -- the Sorrells are continuing their daughter's spirit of giving because that's the way Courtney would've wanted it.

"Ever since she was in the sixth grade, she would get 25 Angel Tree names, and Courtney and her friends from Girl Scouts would raise money to buy gifts for the children and food for the party," Mrs. Sorrells commented about her daughter.

Earlier this month Mission Missouri Executive Director Jane Pfefferkorn announced the renaming of the Angel Tree Christmas Party to "Courtney's Angel Tree Christmas Party."

In addition to Mission Missouri's Angel Tree, which helps children whose parents are in prison, Courtney's community service over the past several years has included adopting four needy families through the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary as well as adopting four needy families on her own, adopting 24 children at the Christmas Boys Home, performing at local and state veterans conventions and baking cookies and cupcakes for local nursing homes during Valentine's Day, Easter and Christmas and much more.

"She was always like the party planner," described Courtney's mother about her daughter.

But Courtney never wanted recognition for her acts of kindness.

"She thought you should do it from the goodness of your heart," Mrs. Sorrells said.

A 2004 graduate of Sikeston High School, Courtney was enrolled for the fall semester at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, Miss.

Courtney's friend, Clint Bohannon, remembered a trip to Oxford with Courtney and other friends when they visited the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.

"Courtney just acted like herself, upbeat, energetic and fun to be around," Bohannon recalled. "One guy pulled me aside and asked me if every girl from Sikeston was like her. I simply laughed and told him, 'Not quite. She's one of a kind.' That's he best way I can describe this wonderful person -- one of a kind."

Garth Fuchs described her friend as "so SPUNKY!" in a letter she wrote to Courtney's parents. "I can always remember her walking into the room and saying, 'Hey, friends!'" Fuchs said.

Courtney's friends still visit and hang out at the Sorrells' home when they come home from college, sometimes even when the couple aren't there. But the Sorrells don't mind; in fact, they're really glad to see Courtney's friends, Mrs. Sorrells assured.

"This is where they always went," Mrs. Sorrells said about her home.

Mrs. Sorrells noted she and her husband always had a close relationship with their daughter and her friends.

"We have no regrets," Mrs. Sorrells said. "And that's one thing my husband and I have talked about -- we hope this will encourage parents to spend as much time with their children as they can."

Throughout the loss of their daughter, Mrs. Sorrells said the community's support has been overwhelming and she and her husband really appreciate their generosity.

Two different local bands have also begun raising funds for annual scholarships to be awarded to students who were active in community service like Courtney.

"We know she's in heaven, but it's still hard," Mrs. Sorrells said. "Christmas has kept us going because of the toys. It's just hard."

Although the Sorrells have always been close with their daughter, there was one secret they and even Courtney's closest friends didn't know until her death -- Courtney was a registered organ donor.

In July Courtney attended a concert with some of her friends, and apparently one of the band members had a liver donated to him and urged the crowd to be organ donors, Mrs. Sorrells explained.

"So she must of went on her own and registered," Mrs. Sorrells said, adding she and her husband think it's wonderful what their daughter did. "Now with her eyes somebody will see; through her lungs, somebody will breathe; and with her heart, somebody will love."

The Sorrells encourage others to donate their organs because it can save so many lives. Both Mr. and Mrs. Sorrells and some of Courtney's friends wear pins promoting organ donations every day.

"Courtney always said if she could make a difference in one child's life, then that's what she was meant to do," her mother recalled.

Following Courtney's death, the Sorrells learned a baby girl received their daughter's liver.

Mrs. Sorrells said her daughter would be pleased to know she gave the ultimate gift of life and is responsible for yet another child celebrating Christmas this year.

Her mother said: "I'm sure she's smiling down from heaven."