Christine’s Gift

By
From the November/December 2013 issue of Capital Style
  • Photo by Will Shilling
    Mark King, playing at Capitol Theatre at the Vern Riffe Center, honors his late neighbor annually at Christine’s Christmas
  • Christine with King’s children


Ten years ago, Christine Wilson was one of five young lives lost in a house fire near Ohio State. But her spirit lives on at Christine’s Christmas, an annual holiday event that raises money to help burned children.

The shy, quiet boy at Christine Wilson’s senior retreat was clearly going through a tough time.

“You’ve got to just hang with us,” Christine told him, inviting him into her world.

While simple to her, he said, the gesture made him feel valuable.

“Little things she thought were little, were big to other people,” said Christine’s mother, Pam, through tears. “He told us her gesture changed his life.”

It was one of many stories the Wilsons would hear about their daughter following the tragic events of Palm Sunday 2003.

News spread quickly about the house fire near Ohio State that claimed five young people, including 19-year-old Christine, a Dublin native and Ohio University student who dreamed of being a teacher.

Listen to her dad, Tim, and you understand why so many mourned.

“She just lit up a room,” he said. “Everybody loved Christine.”

Her neighbor, Mark King, was devastated. A dear family friend, Christine, who babysat his children, was like a daughter to him.

“In the days and weeks that followed, we were all like zombies,” King said. “It was difficult to get our arms around what happened. How do you come to grips with that?”

Christine’s family answered the question by acting. They started a foundation and raised money for children’s charities with a 5K run in Christine’s memory.

King drove to the race, expecting to be saddened. Instead, he was touched. “I was amazed at the number of people, and the positive mood,” he said. “I was inspired by that. I didn’t expect to feel joy.”

The accomplished pianist, who had stopped playing after having grown bored with it, took to the piano, expressing his pain through music. One night, about six months after the fire, he decided to record a CD at Ohio State. Christmas was Christine’s favorite time of year, so he recorded two hours of holiday music, then played it back.

“It was exactly what I wanted it to be,” he said. “The sound of the piano is ethereal—sad, but joyful.”

The CD sold more than 2,000 copies in just two weeks, and with it, King planted the seeds that grew into Christine’s Christmas Concert. In 2004, 350 guests attended, and the event raised $8,000. By last year, the concert drew more than 800—and raised more than $88,000.

It has become a family tradition for many, who come to hear King play his piano, and to listen to the musicians and choirs who join him to celebrate Christine’s life. And 10 years after her death, the event has grown into Downtown’s impressive Vern Riffe Center, yet remains as intimate as King wants. For him, every note carries emotion, and the concert becomes an expression of Christmas itself—and a reminder of Christine’s gift to them all: the reality that life is precious.

“She’s there. You know she’s there,” King said softly. “The inspiration for the music is Christine. We are surrounded by people who support the cause. It is a spiritual night.”

It also is an evening that makes amazing things possible. Money raised supports the Christine Wilson Burn Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which is dedicated to caring for children injured in fires.

“We look at it as it being representative of Christine’s life,” her father said. “She wanted to help children, and this carries on her legacy.”

The hospital burn center is named what it is because the people who loved Christine raised money $20 at a time, King noted.

“This came from the pockets of the community,” King said. “And to me, that is beautiful.”

Kristyn Hartman is a news anchor on 10TV News HD; you can see her reports daily at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.