Loss triggers ‘Spark of Life’ for Bye

by Nathan Warner

Contributing writer

A spark against grief is kindling in Minnesota next year. The Glen Bye Foundation of Zimmerman will host a Spark of Life retreat at Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake in Brainerd March 7–10.

LeAnne Bye, between Spark of Life facilitators David Mathews (right) and Rusty Meadows at the Spark of Life gala held earlier this month.
LeAnne Bye, between Spark of Life facilitators David Mathews (right) and Rusty Meadows at the Spark of Life gala held earlier this month.

The Spark of Life Foundation has held numerous grief recovery retreats in Texas since it was founded in 2008 by David and Debbie Mathews, but this will be the first outside of the state. The retreats are offered to anyone struggling with loss — from the loss of a loved one such as a child or a spouse, to other losses. LeAnne Bye, founder of the Glen Bye Foundation, is responsible for initiating the program’s migration north.

A friend of Bye’s went to a church conference in Tennessee and ran into a booth for the Spark of Life Foundation. After it was explained to Bye, she decided to look further into it and ultimately decided to attend one of the organization’s retreats. Friends and family pulled together to pay for gas and travel expenses to the retreat, held last March. Heather Bean accompanied Bye on the trip. Bean was the girlfriend of Bye’s son, Glen, before he died at age 17.

LeAnne’s mission with the Glen Bye Foundation is driven by her own struggle through grief caused by her son’s death two years ago. Glen “Bubba” Bye was killed in a car accident while on his way to work in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2010. His death shook the Zimmerman community, where Glen was well known and admired. Since his death, LeAnne has endeavored to keep his memory and legacy alive by offering scholarships and supporting school athletics, while lending a supporting hand to people experiencing hardships or loss-related grief. Sponsoring the Spark of Life retreat is part of this endeavor.

Tragedy was also a motivator for the Mathews. Debbie Mathews said they launched the Spark of Life Foundation after their infant grandson, Josiah, died in 2007. “We saw the depths of grief our son and daughter-in-law went through,” she recalls, “and then we bumped into a couple who took pictures for new families at the hospital.”

Mathews says she asked them why they did that.

“They had lost all five of their children,” she recalled, “some to sudden infant death syndrome and some during childbirth. They were trying to give something back to families that had children.”

This chance meeting spurred the Mathewses to get involved with helping those suffering from grief. They were certified as grief specialists and held their first Spark of Life retreat in 2009 at the Tanglewood Resort near Dallas, Texas. They continue to use that location every year.

“We have 10 retreats scheduled next year alone,” Debbie adds, “including the one in Minnesota and one in Washington, D.C.”

The retreats are given as a gift by the Spark of Life Foundation, offering food, lodging and work materials. Only travel expenses to and from the retreats are not covered.

“It was a simply wonderful experience,” Bye said, “They treat you like kings and queens.” She knew Minnesota needed a program like this.

She asked the Mathewses if they could sponsor one outside of the state, she said. Though they had wanted to, they had never done one before.

“So I stepped up and said the Glen Bye Foundation could raise the funds and sponsor it if they would come to Minnesota,” said Bye.

After arriving home, Bye held a fundraiser Dec. 1, along with friends and family, at The Crown Room Banquet Center at the Wellstead in Rogers. One-hundred and fifty people attended the gala, donating through auctions and raffles.

“It was an amazing turnout,” Bye said, “and the Wellstead was simply amazing. They were so good to us.”

Among the volunteers was Nathan Stockwell of Elk River, who donated his time as a magician for the fundraiser.

The funds raised at the gala will pay for the March retreat in Brainerd. David and Debbie Mathews will come from Arkansas to manage the retreat, along with fellow facilitators Rusty and Nancy Meadows. They hope to come back to Minnesota every year.

The retreat takes up to 16 people. “We like to keep it small,” Debbie says, “to ensure everyone gets the attention they need.”

That attention is desperately needed by those experiencing grief, as LeAnne Bye knows.

“So many people blessed us when Glen died,” she says, “and we want to bless others who have had to go through what we went through. This retreat is just a small piece of the work that can be done.”

To register for the retreat or learn more about the Spark of Life Foundation, go to www.sparkoflife.org. To learn more about the Glen Bye Foundation, visit www.glenbyefoundation.org.