Texas wildfire spurs prom dress generosity

A wildfire destroyed 225 homes in Texas, including the prom dresses of Fitch, Texas, high school students. More than 100 prom dresses were donated in response. Meanwhile, in Illinois, the touching story of a boy who took his grandmother to the high school prom.

Prom dresses by the dozen have been donated to students in the Texas Panhandle whose homes and possessions were lost in a wildfire.

The Sanford-Fritch High School prom will be held Saturday night — less than a week after a wildfire burned about 4 square miles near Fritch.

Texas A&M Forest Service officials say about 225 homes were destroyed in the fire that broke out last Sunday about 30 miles northeast of Amarillo.

Superintendent Jim McClellan said Saturday that more than 40 students in the Sanford-Fritch Independent School District lost their residences.

McClellan says four or five girls needed prom dresses, but more than 100 dresses were donated after word spread.

Individuals and businesses also donated tuxedos and flowers for about a dozen prom-bound students.

Meanwhile, in other prom news, what started out as kind of a joke ended up a bit of a dream come true.

On April 26, at the age of 59, Julie Stees finally got to go to her first prom, in a beautiful blue formal, and on the arm of a man she loves - her 18-year-old grandson, Justin.

Justin Stees, a Prophetstown (Illinois) High senior, told his grandma he was planning to go stag. A good-looking kid like him? What a shame, she thought.

"I said, 'Why don't you take Grandma?'" Julie said, "and he said, 'That's a good idea. Would you really go, or are you just pulling my leg?"

Sure, she was joking. But Justin asked Principal Kevin Parker for permission, and he gave his blessing. So did his Grandpa Bob, the other man Julie loves.

So she bought her satiny, robin's-egg-blue dress Friday at Dress Code in downtown Sterling, according to The Daily Gazette.

Justin, a tall, lanky, soft-spoken kid with a crew cut and a slow smile, wore a snazzy black tux and a bow tie to match.

No one gave him any guff for bringing his grandma.

"Everybody said I had a lot of balls for doing it," he said.

They did the grand march. Their introduction, "Julie Stees, escorted by Justin Stees," brought hoots and shouts and loud applause, and a 5-mile-wide grin to Julie's face as they stood on a makeshift bridge, for photos.

They went to Prophetstown State Park for more photos. Then Julie bowed out, and let Justin have the rest of the night with his friends.

That little taste of prom was enough. She was one happy grandma - a fact that didn't escape Justin.

"She was pretty emotional behind the curtain, waiting for the grand march," he said.

When you're married at 15, prom becomes the least of your worries.

Julie had other things on her plate. Like raising her two children, and a handful of adopted ones. Like keeping tabs on her 14 grandkids (Justin is the youngest son of her oldest boy, William). Like taking care of her truck-driving husband for the last 43 years.

Julie, who now lives between Tampico and Prophetstown, was going to Rock Falls High School when she and Bob married. She's been a waitress "her whole life," although she did own The Carousel in Walnut for a time, about 17 years back.

Bob's retired now, and she just quit her job at Prophetstown Family Restaurant because she's ready to strike out on her own again: She plans to open the Old Town Pub and Grub at 124 S. Main St. in Tampico sometime in May. She'll serve a little bit of everything, and there will be a buffet.

And, more than likely, a special place at the table for Justin.

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