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OK fire victim remembered

After her husband died during a December wildfire, Norean Tiger marvels at how support for her has crossed faith and ethnic lines.

BY BOYCE BOWDON | HOLDENVILLE, Okla. | February 13, 2006

After her husband died during a December wildfire, Norean Tiger marvels at how support for her has crossed faith and ethnic lines.

The Rev. Kelly Tiger, Sr., died while trying to put out a blaze in the family's orchard. "When he saw the winds shift and fire coming at our house, he started running toward us and collapsed," said Kelly, Jr., Tiger's son.

Burns covered 70 percent of Rev. Tiger's body, but doctors determined that he died of a heart attack. And despite his efforts, fire destroyed the family home, barn, outbuildings and farm equipment.

"Some of the furniture in the house belonged to Kelly's mother - and that's gone," Mrs. Tiger reflected. "I had filed away all the sermons he preached - and those are gone. Everything pertaining to what he did in his life - is gone."

But Mrs. Tiger affirmed that her husband's influence lives on despite the loss of his most precious possessions. Rev. Tiger was pastor of Hilltop Indian Presbyterian Church in nearby Wewoka.

"Kelly was a people person. It didn't matter if you were white or black or Indian. He was determined to do what he could for his fellow man."

Rev. Tiger's family said his legacy has lived on in people who seem determined to help them come back from the ashes.

Kelly, Jr., said the first person who called the family after the fire was Phillis McCarty, disaster response coordinator for Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) of the United Methodist Church.

"She told me, 'We have a check for you right now, and if there's any more assistance we can give you, then just let us know.'"

Five minutes after McCarty called, Roger Barnett from the Creek Indian Nation called, saying the Creeks would build Mrs. Tiger a new home and have it ready for her in less than two months. Minutes later, Seminole Tribe Chief Kelly Haney called, assuring him that the Seminoles would help. Oklahoma Area United Methodist Bishop Bob Hayes called Kelly, Jr., the night before the funeral to express his condolences and to pray with him.

The outpouring of community support continued at the funeral.

"We knew lots of people would want to come to Dad's funeral, so we held it at the United Methodist church in Holdenville since it has the largest sanctuary in the area," Kelly, Jr., explained. "Thirty minutes before the funeral, the sanctuary was already packed. Then people started gathering outside. The funeral home estimated that at least a thousand people were there."

Mrs. Tiger says the presence of so many friends at the funeral along with the prayers and many other expressions of compassion have comforted her.

One major comfort came to Mrs. Tiger and their four children last Friday at a special celebration. A. D. Ellis, principle chief of the Creek Indian Nation, handed Mrs. Tiger the keys to the 1,400-square-foot home the Creek Nation built for her a few feet from where her old home stood.

Chief Kelly Haney, a former Oklahoma State senator and nationally acclaimed artist, gave Mrs. Tiger one of his paintings for her new home. David Wilson, conference superintendent of the OIMC, made funds available to Mrs. Tiger to furnish the home.

Surrounded by support from friends and colleagues, Mrs. Tiger says she is also gathering strength from her husband's faith in her.

"Not long ago, Kelly told me he could never bear outliving me," she recalled. "I told him, 'Well, Kelly Tiger, how do you think I'm going to get by?' And he said, 'You will. You have always been strong.' I can hear him saying that now. He had that faith in me to be strong, and I'm trying to be."

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