Marion family finds strength in community after devastating loss

Sherry Harris
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Try to imagine being part of a family of five one day, and losing three family members the next. A mother and son faced that devastating loss, but are now becoming an inspiration to just about everyone around them.

A life captured in pictures still cover the walls of their Marion home. Leaders in the Marion community, Ray and Sherry Harris were known as the couple who simply gave.

Ray and Sherry both grew up in Marion, fell in love and married. Sherry was a nurse and Ray ran his popular car dealership.

"He was adventurous," said Sherry.

Their three children, Ramie, Shey and Blake, were all stand-out athletes and students.

Shey, 20, thrived on the stage as a dancer and teacher.

"She was shy," Sherry recalled. "But she was one of those that if you got her up on stage and the more people that were watching her the more comfortable she was."

Ramie, 21, was deeply religious. She loved psychology and wanted to be a doctor or psychiatrist.

"She would write down scripture for kids; her classmates every day, about something they were struggling with. She was able to pull those verses out. I have hundreds of verses that they wrote down for me," said Sherry.

"Ray, he worked really hard, and he was the one that pushed us to do things. He worked hard so we could play hard," she added.

The family took vacations every year. Ray's pilot's license was a passport to fun for the entire family.

The trip he set out on Saturday, November 26th, just days after the family spent Thanksgiving together, was supposed to be a quick one to take Ramie back to Wheaton College near Chicago.

"Ramie wanted to get back a day early so she could study. And Shey wanted to go, and took a friend," said Sherry.

Shey, a student at Anderson University, and her friend 22-year-old Chris Backus, were also on board.

Around 10:00 am that morning, Ray decided to change airports because of bad weather. He also radioed the flight was "in and out of the clouds." No one knows what happened inside the cockpit after that.

Minutes after his last transmission to air traffic control, a man working in a field four miles from the airport, near Crystal Lake, Illinois heard an airplane in trouble, and then saw it nose dive into the field.

All four people on board - Ray, Ramie, Shey and Chris - were killed instantly.

It would be hours before Sherry and 14-year-old Blake would learn their lives were now forever changed.

"Blake and I were ice skating. Well, Blake was ice skating and I was watching. We had bantered back and forth like, 'Gosh, we haven't heard from them.' And we talked ourselves into, 'Oh, they're okay. They're busy 'cause they're getting things off the plane and they were gonna eat,'" she said.

A family friend called Sherry after reading a report of the crash online.

"Blake didn't want to come home at first. He was instantly angry. I think I was more in shock of what to do," she said.

Sherry was devastated and broken at the loss of her two daughters and husband of 23 years,

"Sometimes I still can't believe it happened and that this is my life now," she said.

Sherry says it is her friends, family and even strangers surrounding her and Blake with love and support that helps her go on every day now.

"Words again do not describe thank you. They don't. Just being there with me and here for us. Like I cannot even say thank you enough. You don't know what else to do. You can't not get up every day," she said.

Sherry says she's also found comfort in realizing the impact her daughters had. Mementos of their short lives are now on display on glass shelves.

"They were out there touching so many lives. You just don't know how many people your children are touching at 20 and 21," said Sherry.

Ray's legacy was the business he worked so hard to make a success, the Ray Harris Chrysler Jeep dealership, right off of I-69 in Marion.

A place Sherry now spends her days, selling cars from her husband's office, which is still the way he left it, on the day he died.

Even though it is still a hard place for him to visit, Blake is working to keep his father's passion thriving.

"I come up here, now, like once a week. I used to be here almost every day," said Blake. "It's kind of keeping his vision alive. He wanted this to get big, and we're trying to make it get big."

"He is definitely a source of strength and he doesn't even need to do or say anything. It's great to have him," said Sherry.

Sherry decided to talk now to say thank-you for all the support she and Blake have received. She knows it's the support and love she will need as the healing continues.

Sherry says her daughter Shey was an exceptional dance teacher. Next week, all of the people she taught are getting together to perform a special show for mother and son in honor of their teacher. Sherry says it's things like that which really give her strength.