Courier Staff Writer
Whipped cream flew through the Evans Middle School gym Tuesday afternoon, smacking teachers in the face — and helping two others recover after their home was engulfed in flames two weeks ago.
Evans school resource officer, Darren Batterson, and his girlfriend, teacher associate Lisa Kitterman, lost their three-story home south of Ottumwa on Jan. 28 after lightning struck the top floor, causing the house to burst into flames.
During the middle school’s lunch hour Tuesday, students took aim and chucked more than 400 pies at some of their favorite teachers in order to help Batterson and Kitterman.
Seventh-grade reading teacher Staci Pester said her advisory class decided to raise money for the couple after learning that their house had burned down.
They brainstormed ideas, got approval from administration and emailed teachers if they would “donate their face for money,” Pester said.
“We tossed around a bunch of ideas,” said seventh-grader Yesenia Millhouse, who is in Pester’s advisory class. “We came up with an art auction, bake sale, just bringing in money and a food drive.”
But in the end, it was the pie-throwing extravaganza that stuck.
“I felt really bad for [Batterson],” said Millhouse’s classmate, Payton Ingle.
After scarfing down their lunch, students stood on tables and scrounged for a couple dollars in their pockets to “pie” their favorite teachers.
All 150 tubs of whipped cream were donated by North and South Hy-Vee and Walmart, Pester said.
Each participating student contributed $2 per pie, and by the time the last dollop of whipped cream had been cleared off the gym floor, the sixth grade had raised $356, the seventh grade had raised $292, and the eighth grade had raised $174.
“He was my school resource officer when I went to Evans, so I’ve known him for years and years,” Pester said. “He knows pretty much every kid in every grade. They all love him.”
In total, 21 staff members got “pied” on Tuesday. Sixth-grade gym teacher Ronald Howard brought in $77, seventh grade English teacher Riley O’Brien brought in $117 and eighth-grade gym teacher Ryan Morgan brought in $46.
Kitterman said seeing all the students come together to support her and Batterson “makes you want to cry.
“They’ve been so helpful and very caring,” she said. “They’ll come up and hug you, make sure you’re OK. Then that makes me cry, too. These kids are very thoughtful.”
Kitterman’s neighbors called her and Batterson late that night and told them the news.
“Lightning hit my daughter’s room on the very top floor,” she said.
Thankfully, no one was in the home at the time.
“It was burnt to the foundation,” Kitterman said. “We’ve been staying with my mom and dad for now.”
Kitterman has worked at Evans for three years, and Batterson has worked as a school resource officer at the middle school since 2000.
“It’s just great what they did,” Batterson said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
He said the school, students and students’ parents have all been helpful and supportive in the weeks since they lost their home.
Thirty-five firefighters beat back the flames for nearly seven hours and managed to save a separate two-car garage, an LP gas tank and a small shed north of the house.
“We were able to cool the LP gas tank to keep it from being involved,” Wapello County Rural Fire Chief Bryan Ziegler previously told the Courier. “If the garage had caught on fire, there’s a potential for the LP tank to burn, and that could have resulted in an explosion. It doesn’t mean it would have, but it could have.”
According to the assessed value, Ziegler estimated damages totaled more than $128,000, including the contents of the house.