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Losing daughter in hurricane was 'awakening' for Victoria parents

By Gabe Semenza
May 26, 2010 at 12:26 a.m.

Fighting back the tears, Loyd West still finds it difficult to talk about his daughter's death during Hurricane Claudette in 2003.

Hurricane Claudette

LANDFALL: July 2003.

STRENGTH: Meteorologists debate its strength. Most say the hurricane was a top-level Category 1 storm.

DEATH: Only one person died during the storm. Sharon Bauer West, a 33-year-old Victoria woman.

POWER OUTAGE: For more than 10 days in some portions of Victoria County.

DAMAGE: $180 million along the Texas coast.

Gov. Rick Perry declared Victoria County a disaster area due to damage suffered during the storm.

Claudette was the first major hurricane to make U.S. landfall during July since Hurricane Danny did in 1997.

Sharon West Bauer was the only Crossroads resident who died during Hurricane Claudette.

For seven years, her parents tried to cope with the loss.

Now, Georgia and Loyd West say their daughter's death forced upon them lessons about faith, giving back and the importance of heeding weather warnings.

Bauer died amid a lull in the winds and after a heavy limb fell from a tall, twisted oak tree. Since, her parents have held tight to a principle rooted in scripture.

"If you look for the good things in life," her mother said, "that's what you're going to get."

'STAY SAFE AND INSIDE'

Almost seven years to the date of their daughter's July 2003 death, Georgia, 66, and Loyd West, 67, relaxed at their round dining room table.

They discussed their daughter, a vivacious 33-year-old mother-hen type who devoted her life to helping others. Every year, the family of five gathers to roast its missing loved one. Laughter helps to heal.

Every time tears threatened the mother's smile, she stiffened. Loyd West remained quiet. He crossed his arms or rubbed his eyes with a thumb and index finger.

"The pain is real, but the joy is just as real," her mother said. "Life is never what you think it should be. It's what the good Lord thinks it should be."

Bauer's life during the years before her death seemed on track for continued happiness and normalcy. She married in 2002 and built a home next door to her parents, who live on 65 acres near the Goliad-Victoria county line.

Ninety minutes before the tree limb fell, Georgia West called her daughter. The parents were in an RV traveling along a Colorado highway.

"Trees will grow back. You won't," she told Bauer. "Stay safe and inside."

Bauer, though, lamented at what the winds did to her landscaping. Trees fell and flowerpots were strewn across her yard. She stepped outside, felt only a breeze, and gathered the loose pots.

"Just because there's a lull doesn't mean the danger has passed," her mother said.

SHARON'S LEGACY

The Wests, who married 47 years ago, held hands and walked down a country road. Winding Way Drive, which leads to their home, is a symbol of life's twists and turns, they say.

The Wests feel drawn to the life their daughter once led. Bauer worked full time for Devereux Foundation and often spent off hours there, too.

Devereux Foundation is a nonprofit group that offers care to children, adults and families with special needs.

After Bauer died, the foundation dedicated a portion of a building in her name. The Sharon West Bauer Gift Center is housed inside Devereux's Navarro Street shop.

The parents donate time to the group, too. One of the foundation's two local centers is only a mile from the parents' home.

"Devereux is Sharon's legacy," the mother said. "That's what she did with her life and what we continue to do on her behalf."

The parents help to operate a summer camp, raise money and manage a Devereux clothing outlet for children with behavioral and emotional disorders. The couple painted and organized a small building, dubbed the Clothes Closet, to resemble a retail shop. This way, children who need free clothes feel as if they're shopping, they hope.

Fred Williams is Devereux's local director.

"Sharon was an extremely special person," Williams said as he watched her parents sort usable clothes from others. "She had red hair and this amazing personality. Her parents are just incredibly special people, too. They help out in so many ways."

'YOU CAN'T REPLACE LIFE'

Despite a looming hurricane season, the Wests say they avoid succumbing to paranoia. They take precautions, but they always did.

The couple knows about the potential dangers ahead, but seems at peace nonetheless.

"We have a deep faith, and that faith was tested," Georgia West said. "Separation is the hardest thing to deal with, but we were able to keep our faith. That is the greatest blessing in losing a child. Without the tragedy, we would have probably missed that. It is truly an awakening."

Aches and pains don't hurt so bad anymore, and life's everyday difficulties only seem minor, her father explained.

Before Bauer died, she agreed to donate her organs in the event of her death. Those organs eventually saved or helped 33 others.

The Wests say they hope their story helps to save others, too. Hurricane season doesn't have to claim another life, the mother said.

"Listen. Pay attention. Follow common sense," Georgia West said. "You can replace property, but you can't replace life."

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