Youths' boardinghouse is alive with memories
By Diana Dworin
NEW ORLEANS -- A ceiling fan brushed the summer heat across the dining room in waves as missionary Ron Clouse took long sips from a glass of fruit punch and spoke quietly about his faith.
"That's what we are supposed to do, go out into the world and tell people about Jesus," said Clouse, who for the past two years has headed a New Orleans boardinghouse for members of the Family, a nondenominational religious group. "But none of us expected things to end up like this."
Clouse's clapboard home, across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans, with its red-brick pillars and a broken trellis out front, was the point of departure for one of the Family's religious "road trips."
Their venture ended in tragedy Sunday in Austin when five teenage members of the Family died in a traffic accident near McKinney Falls State Park that authorities said was the deadliest in Austin's history.
The five group members who died in the crash left here July 11 with six other Family members. They planned a three-week evangelical trip across Texas that eventually would have taken them to Laredo.
For the teens, the trip was an ordinary event, Clouse said. "It's routine for Family members, especially in the summer, to go on extended trips that take them across the country and often the world," he said.
One of the teens, Victoria Korkahms, had been to the Grand Canyon, South Carolina, Arizona and Tennessee this year alone, said her younger brother, Michael, 12, who is staying at the boardinghouse with his mother and five siblings.
Crash victim Precious Oehler, 15, came to the boardinghouse in June after a weeklong visit with Family members in Puerto Rico, Clouse said.
The girls, who were home- schooled and had virtually no friends outside the Family, were remembered by other children at the boardinghouse for their distinct personalities.
Ten-year-old Terry Clouse, Ron Clouse's daughter, remembered that Victoria Korkahms gave her a bracelet for no other reason than "she just liked to give things to people."
Esther Valenzuela, Terry Clouse's 12-year-old sister, remembered how Katrina Oehler soaped windows at a carwash last month when the Family's youth members held a fund-raiser.
Cristina Noell, 16, meanwhile, was so adept at the guitar that she decided to teach Katrina Oehler how to play, Valenzuela said.
Precious Oehler was more of a quiet type, Terry Clouse said, and 17-year-old Nina Wickenheiser was "a neat freak," who, when she arrived at the house in June, immediately went to the kitchen to straighten things up.
Their days at the boardinghouse started with an 8 a.m. breakfast, Bible readings and then what Ron Clouse called "Jesus job time" -- housework around the boarding home.
Evenings, Family members typically passed out literature in parking lots and went door-to-door to preach and "save souls," Ron Clouse said. Their days ended with inspirational sing-alongs.