Town, school rally to help family in need

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NORTH ZULCH —The North Zulch community was stunned last weekend by the tragic news that one of their own was killed in a vehicle accident on Jan. 16 – and now they’re rallying to provide support.

Brad Mackens, a volunteer firefighter who recently began working for the North Zulch school district’s maintenance department, was just 40 years old at the time of his death. His wife Jessica and 12-year-old son Joseph “JoJo” were injured in the wreck and recently released from Memorial Hermann Hospital. The Mackens’ other children, Brandon, Levi and Lynzie, were not in the vehicle at the time of the crash.

In the small community where almost all residents attend basketball games on Friday nights and just 60 people are listed in the entire school district’s staff directory, news of such a loss can be devastating.

“Brad was very joyful, very helpful, a very outgoing person,” said Harold Sapp, who was Mackens’ supervisor at the school district and a fellow volunteer firefighter. “He was our brother.”

The high school gym is decked out with a banner displaying just three words: “Fly high, Brad.”

At the Jan. 19 basketball game, a half-court shot contest was held, in which organizers raised $300 for the Mackens family. But they didn’t stop there.

Community members gathered over the weekend to build a handicap-accessible ramp at the Mackens’ home. Melanie Ray, office manager for The Meteor, was planning to donate a gift basket but found out they needed lumber for a handicap ramp and felt called to assist.

“We built one for my home about a year ago and took it down after my mother passed away in September,” Ray said. “It was like my mama was smiling down on us and telling me to help this family.”

The ramp, still intact, was supplemented with some lumber provided by a local firefighter, and Sapp and his son set out to install it at the Mackens’ home on Friday afternoon.

“Every time I looked up there were more people there asking how they could help,” Sapp said. “Our community really comes together when something like this happens.”

A barbecue lunch and silent auction is planned for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, at the North Zulch ISD cafeteria. Barbecue plates include brisket, sausage, potato salad, coleslaw, beans and desserts. Plates can be purchased by donation. A silent auction is also planned, and all proceeds will go to the Mackens family.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Kendra Gilbert at (936) 399-1000 or Patsy Crocker at (979) 450-2985.

A fund also has been established at Wells Fargo Bank in Madisonville. Donations may be deposited to the bank using Account No. 3514424153 or wired using Routing No. 121000248. Donations can be dropped off at the North Zulch ISD administrative offices.

Sapp noted that a long road to recovery is ahead not just for Jessica and JoJo Mackens but for the other children in the family. He believes, however, that they are thinking positive.

“I saw JoJo on Monday afternoon and he could barely open his eyes. He gave me a little wave,” Sapp said. “I heard that on Tuesday he was running up and down the halls in his wheelchair.”

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