'Angel family' involved in '83 blizzard rescue comes forward
CHAMPAIGN – Saturday put an end to former Illinois resident Nancy Stagg's 25-year search.
Stagg, who lives in Dallas, N.C., a small town outside of Charlotte, has been searching for the Central Illinois family who helped her family during a blizzard on Christmas Eve 1983.
"I wanted to be able to get in touch with them, to let them know that they saved our lives and that they did something wonderful," Stagg said.
Stagg was 25 years old then and traveling from Louisville, Ky., to Naperville that year to see family for the holidays with her former husband, Chris, and her then-9-month-old son, Matthew, who had open-heart surgery when he was 3 months old.
A blizzard hit the area along with extreme low temperatures and wind chills. As Stagg and her family were en route to Naperville, the blizzard began, shutting down Interstate 65 and prompting the young family to take I-74 instead.
Then their car died.
That's when "the Angel family" – as dubbed by Stagg – arrived.
In response to Saturday's News-Gazette story, the family called the paper.
"I was shocked," said Imogene Swick of Fithian. "I thought, 'Who in the world?' As I started reading, I said, 'John, that's us.'"
Swick and her husband, John, were traveling back from Louisville as well after visiting with a son there with plans to go straight to Elgin.
The storm, however, diverted them from I-65 onto I-74 as well, as they changed their plans and decided to go straight home to Fithian.
Less than 5 miles from home, they saw Stagg and her family.
"We saw this car and we stopped," Swick said. "We just brought them home with us. It was so cold that they slept on the floor in our living room. We have an upstairs ... but it was cold upstairs and it was so windy and cold and downstairs was so warm. We put comforters down and stuff."
The Swicks fed them dinner – Kentucky Fried Chicken – and even gave them a Christmas present, although Imogene Swick can't recall what the present was.
"I'm the type that never meets a stranger," she said. "I have never seen anybody I haven't liked. I think if you're nice, they're nice."
Imogene Swick, 80, and John, 82, have been married for 62 years. John worked for 31 years on the railroad while Imogene raised their four children. They are a close family, she said.
The 1983 Christmas Eve has become a familiar story in Stagg's family.
Though finding the family has been on her mind for several years, Stagg said she was prompted to actively search for them this year because "a lot of people tend to forget what the true meaning of Christmas really is."
"It's not just what you can put under the tree; it's the miracle of the birth of our Savior," Stagg said.
Stagg and Swick spoke by phone Saturday.
"I called her and it was just incredible," Stagg said. "She sounds wonderful; she sounds more full of life than I do."
Imogene Swick brushed off any "Angel" reference.
"No, we are people just helping people," she said. "I can't imagine anybody passing (them) by."
For Stagg, Saturday was both closure and a new beginning.
"It's closed up a chapter of frustration, not remembering who these people were and where they actually came from, and it also opened up another chapter. Now that I know who they are and I have their address, I can communicate with them," she said.