MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. – One-year-old Bristol William Joye is just who the Stevens family needed.
“She fills a hole in your heart that you never thought would be possible,” said Jean Stevens.
Jean knows her granddaughter is an angel hand-picked by her son, Will.
“I feel like he sent her to us to help us,” said Taylor Joye, Bristol’s mom and Will’s sister.
Bearing her uncle’s name and his spirit, Bristol is helping to soften the pain of losing William Chance Stevens.
“She’ll never replace Will, but she does kind of fill that gap of loneliness and missing somebody so much because she brings so much joy,” said Taylor.
Will died alongside Danielle Downs and Loryn Brown at a home in the Beverly Heights neighborhood of Tuscaloosa. He had stopped by the place on 14th Avenue on April 27, 2011, to check on his friends. Then, an EF-4 tornado tore through the city tossing tress on top of the house.
“They did everything right that day,” said Taylor. “They did everything they were taught in school or even taught from home, but they didn’t make it.”
Rescuers found Will on top of the young women trying to protect them before the house collapsed.
“He’s where he needs to be,” said Taylor. “God wanted him home, so he went home, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been ten years.”
Will Stevens was 22 years old.
Danielle Downs, 24 years old.
Loryn Brown, 21 years old.
“There have been a lot of milestones that he’s missed out on that really make you sit back and think,” said Taylor. “The day I found out I was pregnant with her, he was the first person I wanted to call and I couldn’t. That’s been really hard. Just hitting those milestones and not having him there just to celebrate them.”
Less than two weeks after April 27, Will was set to graduate from Stillman College. The former Priceville standout athlete pitched for the Tigers baseball team. After graduation, he planned to move home to teach and coach.
“He loved kids, he loved growing, helping people in their athletics,” said Taylor.
Will is still helping students, though. The “Will Stevens Memorial Scholarship” is awarded to two Priceville student-athletes every year. This year will celebrate the scholarship’s nineteenth and twentieth recipients.
“A lot of students come back and say they wouldn’t have got a chance at college if it wasn’t for that scholarship,” said Taylor.
Organizers hold a yard sale, as well as a car show to help raise money for the scholarships. This year’s “Will Steven’s Memorial Yard Sale” will take place April 30 from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and May 1 from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Nunnelly’s Storage in Somerville. “The Will Stevens Memorial Foundation Cruise Night” will take place May 15 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Veteran’s Park in Priceville.
Will continues to protect others, too. In December 2018, Priceville High School dedicated its new storm shelter to Will and Danielle, another Priceville grad.
“It means a lot,” said Taylor, “and it shows you what type of person he was to make such a huge impact, even for the school to recognize it. And also Danielle, I mean, she was just as loved, she was just as an amazing person.”
The scholarships and the shelter are also helping the Stevens by transforming some of their grief into good.
“It’s hard,” said Jean, “but you learn to deal with it, you learn how to live with it. You have your good days and bad days.”
“You have to,” said Taylor, “because you can’t just sit around doing nothing that’s going to hurt you and he wouldn’t want that. He would want us to try and move on with our life and carry on with our day to day and grow a family.”
Bristol may be the family’s new center of attention, but her Uncle Will is always in the middle of it all.
“Even though he’s not here, she’s going to know who he is,” said Taylor. “I want him to be a part of her life.”
You can find information below to donate to any the victims’ scholarship funds:
Will Stevens Scholarship Foundation: P.O. Box 128 Somerville, AL 35670
Danielle Downs Memorial Fund: Air Force Aid Society 241 18th Street S Suite 202 Arlington, VA 22202 *Checks made payable to ASAF with Danielle Downs Memorial Fund in the memo line.
Loryn Brown Endowed Scholarship: P.O. Box 861928 Tuscaloosa, AL 35486 *Checks payable to Alumni Fund with endowment name in the memo line.