Andre Mack II was a pretty typical 12-year-old, with a love for basketball, stylish clothes and model cars. His dream was to one day design sleek cars, but that dream will never be realized.
On Dec. 5, Andre; his mother, Amanda Thomas; and 3-month-old brother, Akeron, were headed home after a Hanukkah party when their car was struck at North 2nd Street and Broadway Avenue. All three were killed. Since learning of the fatal accident the next day, Doug Westholter has made it his business to bring something good out of tragedy. He is organizing a benefit at the Fridley VFW Post 363, 1040 Osborne Road, on Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m.
“It’s my phoenix project,” Westholter said. “Out of the ashes will come something positive and provide healing for Andre’s classmates.”
Andre was a sixth-grader at Fridley Middle School. Proceeds from the event will go to the funeral home to pay funeral expenses, and to purchase a headstone. Any remaining funds will be invested to provide college seed money for Andre’s classmates.
He was Grandpa Doug
Westholter said he felt he had to do something because the loss of the Thomas family is personal for him. He was Grandpa Doug to Andre.
“That’s what he and the other kids called me when I worked with them in third grade at [Fridley’s] Stevenson Elementary School,” he said.
After retiring from Supervalu, Westholter became a substitute para educator at the school. “I tried to be a calming force to a little boy without a male influence in his life,” Westholter said. “Andre was a cool kid.”
Andre’s grandmother, Linda Lou Peka, said she is overwhelmed by the kindness shown her family with the upcoming event. “Andre would be so happy,” she said.
Many donations from people and businesses
Westholter, too, is overwhelmed by the generosity of people who didn’t know the Thomas family, but have gone out of their way for a young mother and her two little boys. People and businesses have donated everything from gift cards to an overnight hotel stay to auto detailing as raffle prizes.
“It’s been like a ripple thing,” Westholter said. “I have been so pleasantly surprised.” In addition to raffle prizes, folks have donated their services, such as the man who printed the raffle tickets and the guy who will run Karaoke at the benefit.
Admission to the benefit is $5, which covers food and soft drinks. The family-oriented event will include face painting, a magician and the trivia game, “Are You Smarter Than a Fridley Middle Schooler?”
For those unable to attend but who would like to help, the “Evening for Andre” fund has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank, 6315 University Ave., NE, Fridley, MN 55432.
“Things have gone so smoothly in such a short amount of time,” Westholter marveled. “Andre’s up there pulling the strings. We’re just the marionettes.”