Crowd Celebrates Lives of Andre Mack and Family
About 200 people gather to have fun, remember the dead, support survivors and raise money for funeral costs and a scholarship.
Residents of Fridley and others came together Saturday evening to remember the life of 12-year-old Andre Mack II and support his surviving family.
Organizer Doug Westholter said final totals were not yet available but estimated that 200–300 people attended the six-hour fundraiser and community celebration for the Fridley Middle School student; his mother, Amanda Thomas; and his infant brother, Akeron Thomas.
The three died on Dec. 5 when a driver fleeing the State Patrol crashed into their car in north Minneapolis.
Linda Lou Peka, grandmother to Andre and Akeron and mother to Amanda, attended the benefit. “This is a special night,” she said. “It’s an important night. We’re keeping Andre’s spirit alive.”
Bo Diamond of Fridley and a group she referred to as "her team" were there to support their friend Peka. “It was a terrible thing,” she said about the three deaths. “We have to be there for each other.”
Eleven-year-old Abby Ladwig came to the benefit with her mother, brother and a friend, Yumnah Youngmark, also 11. Abby and Yumnah were classmates of Andre at Fridley Middle School. “We went to school with him and wanted to come out and do what we could,” Abby said.
Abby’s mother, Gara Ladwig, said she thought it was important for the kids to support Andre’s family. “Kids think they’re invincible, then something like this happens,” she said. “They’re confused about how they’re supposed to feel. Abby felt the connection.”
Many connections were felt Saturday night at Fridley’s VFW Post 363, where the celebration was held from 4–10 p.m. The VFW donated the space and the soft drinks. Tickets cost $5. Raffle tickets also were available for prizes ranging from diamond earrings to auto detailing.
The money raised will go to help the family pay for remaining funeral costs and headstones, as well as to help establish a scholarship fund for students from R.L. Stevenson Elementary, where Andre attended.
At one point a crowd of middle-schoolers and some adults danced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” as the DJ, Rock N Roll John, urged them along. Later in the evening, Mother Earth, a band with members from Spring Lake Park High School, took the stage. In between, Westholter, the organizer, hosted a game he called “Are You Sharper Than a Fridley Middle Schooler?”
“Two weeks ago I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep,” he told the crowd in a hoarse voice. “Something moved the bed! I got up and wrote down all these questions and got this idea,” he said as he waved a clipboard and paper with hand-scrawled writing covering it. He went on to quiz nine volunteers with trivia questions until he had two finalists. He declared them both winners.
As groups of families and friends sat together at tables, chatting and laughing, the smallest children paid a dollar a try to throw sandbags at targets to win prizes like flying discs and Barbie stickers.
Westholter paused long enough to say that he had been up since 4 a.m. working on the "An Evening for Andre" benefit, often feeling the presence of Andre as he went about the hectic preparations for the event. “I’ll be asleep when my head hits the pillow tonight,” he said.
Linda Peck—“LouLou” to her friends, “Grandma” to Andre—sat with a group of people and kept a smile. She, too, felt Andre’s presence in the room. “He’s holding me,” she said. “All of them are holding me.”