FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Craig Strickland, country music lead singer for Backroad Anthem, loved people, said his mom, Joanne Craig of Fort Smith. Strickland “was all about relationships,” Joanne said, adding that what he enjoyed most about being on stage performing was “engaging the crowds.”
An avid hunter, Strickland and his friend, Chase Morland, went “right through Winter Storm Goliath to kill ducks in Oklahoma,” Morland tweeted on Dec. 29, 2015. Both Strickland, 29, and Morland, 22, lost their lives in the storm, the Southwest Times Record (https://bit.ly/2oBAt5z ) reported.
Turning tragedy into opportunity, Strickland’s family established the Craig Strickland Foundation on Dec. 27, 2016, the first anniversary of Strickland’s death, to “celebrate and honor Craig’s life,” per craigstricklandfoundation.org, and encourage others to share the excitement Strickland had for life. Their dedication, the website notes, is to help “young adults embrace the opportunities and leverage the talents God brings their way.”
Strickland “used his life to encourage people,” the foundation’s website states. A self-taught guitarist/musician, Strickland led youth worship for many years and impacted many lives while doing so, the foundation’s website reports. Through the foundation, Strickland continues “to make a difference in the lives of youth.”
The idea for the foundation stemmed from a phone call Joanne Craig received from Barbara Burlsworth, whose son, Brandon, had been a walk-on Razorback for the University of Arkansas. Brandon had a “strong Christian foundation,” Joanne shared. The website for the movie about Brandon’s life, “Greater,” describes Brandon as an “awkward kid who was once an embarrassment to his teammates and an annoyance to his coaches.” Brandon, the website continued, “became one of the most respected players in the history of the program, changing the lives of all he touched.” Ten days after being drafted to the NFL, he was killed in a car wreck.
The Brandon Burlsworth Foundation continues Brandon’s legacy and helps children, Joanne said. Joanne and Barbara discussed how to start a foundation to keep Strickland’s legacy alive as well. Strickland’s dad and sister, Katie Ryburn, met with Barbara; her son, Marty Burlsworth; and Marty’s wife, Vickie. The Burlsworths were very supportive and helpful with starting the foundation, but Barbara was also very supportive and helpful “mother to mother” in dealing with the pain, Joanne said.
Strickland graduated from the University of Arkansas in May 2010 with a degree in business and marketing. His younger sister, Katie, graduated earlier the same day with the same degree, from Ouachita Baptist University. The Craig Strickland Foundation awards scholarships, Joanne said, and its website defines the recipients as selected seniors who have valued relationships with others, have impacted many and seem “equipped for every good work through their attitude and faith.”
Remembering her brother’s love of paper airplanes, it was Katie who suggested a paper airplane for the foundation’s logo, Joanne said. Strickland was really good at making and flying paper airplanes, she added.
A paper airplane contest was held at the foundation’s inaugural fundraiser, the Sportsmen’s Dinner and Wild Game Feast, on Feb. 11 in Newkirk, Oklahoma, Joanne said. Newkirk was where Strickland died, Joanne said. The game warden there, Spencer Grace, welcomed about 250 guests who enjoyed a wild game buffet dinner and heard from Joanne; Strickland’s dad, Randy Strickland; and Strickland’s widow, Helen.
It was the first time Strickland’s mother had spoken about the tragedy, she said.
“It had been really hard to talk about Craig in the past tense,” she said. Speaking in Newkirk, surrounded by the very community that helped find her son, she said, “was a lot more healing than (she) expected,” and it has made it easier to talk about him.
“The sweetest gifts God has given me are the lessons I continue to learn from Craig’s life,” Joanne said. She also shared, “Craig didn’t see awkward situations. Instead, he saw opportunities to speak of Jesus.
Also an avid baseball fan, Strickland helped found Beyond the Game, which the foundation’s website describes as “a program that used the game of baseball as a means to share the love of Christ.” Strickland’s love for baseball caused him to transfer from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Joanne said. During a “pivotal time” in Strickland’s life, he was led by God to make another college transfer, to the University of Arkansas. It was there, Joanne said, that Strickland was introduced to Student Mobilization, which the foundation’s website defines as a nonprofit organization on college campuses that exists “to build spiritual leaders for Christ” around the world. The foundation is listed as being dedicated to assisting “StuMo staff members with fundraising awards for the school year.”
Two events are planned in June that will benefit the Craig Strickland foundation. The Craig Strickland Memorial Golf Tournament, a four-man scramble, is planned for June 17 at River Valley Golf Course in Alma.
“It’s really sweet how (the Golf Tournament) came about,” Joanne said. Robbins was a classmate of Strickland’s at Alma High School, and although Robbins did not know Strickland very well in school, he became a Backroad Anthem fan.
A ping pong tournament is scheduled for June 29 in Fort Smith.
Information from: Southwest Times Record, https://www.swtimes.com/
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