Tornado recovery fundraiser a splatting success

Kevin Haas

Teacher Kevin Finnegan’s squeaky-clean reputation may have cost him a pie in the face, but it paid off nicely for one family recovering from last week’s tornado.

Finnegan, described by students and fellow staffers at North Boone Middle School as something of a neat freak, won a competition he’d normally rather lose — and it earned him a pie in the kisser.

“He is a person who absolutely despises to get one ounce of dirt on him,” said Katie Baietto, school secretary.

Still, the eighth-grade English teacher was happy to be part of the fundraiser that generated almost $700 for members of a Poplar Grove family who lost their home during last week’s twister.

The money was raised in just four days, thanks to some aggressive campaigning that pitted Finnegan, seventh-grade teacher Dana Rosenquist and first-year principal Jeremiah Auble against each other.

Classroom doors were littered with posters and papers encouraging students to donate to their “favorite” staffer. Rosenquist said kids were getting creative with their campaigns, including one student who claimed to have a pie phobia and needed to get over her fear.

The money dropped in each of the three staffers boxes was pooled together and given to the Nichols family. John and his 14-year-old daughter Toni, a seventh grader at the school, accepted the check for $681.98 on Wednesday at the school.

The teacher with the most money pledged had the dubious honor of being covered with pie in front of the whole school.

The school’s student council took the lead in getting students involved and eighth-grader Stefanie Hamaker, the council’s vice president, had pie-hurling duty.

Though she put her donations toward Auble, because “he’s the principal” and “it’s his first year,” she sees why many of her classmates decided on Finnegan.

“He likes to have fun. Our classes are fun,” Hamaker said.

John Nichols was moved by the school’s gesture.

“I’m completely overwhelmed,” he said.

Auble said the pie war was entertaining, but students didn’t really need extra motivation to give to their classmate’s family.

“Immediately after the tornado, our office was bombarded with phone calls from people in the community, our parents, who wanted to know how they could help. But especially our students, they got it right away,” Auble said. “It was incredibly touching ... I’m proud of the whole district.”

Staff writer Kevin Haas can be reached at 815-544-3452 or

Nichols recovering

Jeanette Nichols, the most seriously injured person during the Jan. 7 tornado, is steadily recovering in OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, her son, John Nichols, said Wednesday.

“She’s feisty as ever,” he said.

Jeanette was found in a pile of debris Jan. 7 after the tornado tore her home from its foundation. She suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and two breaks in her collarbone, among other injuries.

Dustin, 12; Toni, 14; and their father, John, were also home at the time. Dustin suffered a head injury and several bruises. He will return to school Monday, John said. Toni and John were not injured.