ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: BC community helps Horne and Polite families during tragedies
When eighth-grade boys – prospective Benedictine Military School Cadets – visit the school campus on Seawright Drive, BC Principal Mr. Jacob Horne often tells them, “BC is not just four years of your life. BC is your brotherhood for a lifetime.”
Horne and his family experienced firsthand the BC brotherhood and the support of the Benedictine community, when tragedy struck their family in November 2019. Then, in March 2020, the Horne family – with the help of BC graduate Lamar Owens ’02 and others – was able to “pay it forward” when tragedy befell BC graduate Julian Polite ’06 and his family.
In November 2019, Horne and his wife, Brittani, were informed that Brittani’s brother, Chris Hesling, his wife, Brittany Hesling, and their 4-year-old son, Jack Hesling, had died in a car accident in Gainesville, Fla. Maggie Hesling, their 6-month-old daughter, survived the head-on collision. She was unharmed and now lives with her grandparents.
“It was Brittany’s birthday the day they died. It was her 31st birthday,” Horne said of his sister-in-law. “And we think they had gone to one of these, it’s like a dolphin pet park – something like that in that area – and they were just coming home late … and it happened.”
Horne said “so many” of the BC faculty and staff reached out to him and Brittani when they were grieving. BC parents offered assistance and several people, some anonymously, donated money to a GoFundMe account for Maggie as well as funeral expenses.
“That was very powerful,” Horne said. “It was just one more iteration of what makes BC BC … the way the community rallied around my family. I had people bringing meals. It was just over and above what people at your job, what people you work with, would do.”
Horne, his wife and their two young sons helped other relatives clean out the Hesling family’s house. “As a family, we were going through the cleaning out of the house and we took some things; refrigerator, a bed, things like that, that weren’t going to be left at the house.”
Fast-forward to March 13, 2020. Polite, who works as a foreman at Thunderbolt Marine, received a phone call from the police department informing him that his house in Port Wentworth was engulfed in flames.
“It was an electrical fire,” Polite said. “It started in the wall, in my son’s room. We weren’t home, thank goodness. I got a phone call. (The police department) gave me a call, and (they told me) my house had caught on fire. So I went over there and it was just a total loss. It was a half-day (of school at Tybee Maritime Academy), too. If (my son and daughter) had been out on spring break and been home … They were actually on the way home when I got that call. Luckily, my wife was on her way to work and the kids were on their way back from school.”
Brittani Horne is a fourth-grade teacher at Tybee Maritime Academy. Tracy West, a co-worker and former BC parent, told her that two of their students, Julian Polite Jr., and his sister, Zariah Polite, had lost their home and all of their possessions to a fire.
“I had just called Lamar Owens about two weeks earlier because I knew he was coming back to Savannah, and I just wanted to chat with him,” Jacob Horne said of the BC graduate, former Navy quarterback, and former Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern football assistant coach. “And I remembered Lamar had mentioned to me that he was getting into real estate. Once again, knowing someone in the BC community who I knew was willing to help a young family; I knew Julian likely had heard of Lamar, at least because of all of his athletic abilities, and I could reach out to Lamar. So I did. I got a reply back from Lamar maybe within a day, day and a half, that (the Polites) were in an apartment or an Air B&B until they could get on their feet.”
Owens, who lives in Savannah, is pursuing a realtor’s license. He plans to become an investor in real estate.
“I really didn’t do much,” Owens said. “I took the call from Mr. Horne and I just connected Julian with a family member of mine. She’s a social worker and she has a lot of connections. I talked with Julian’s wife (Ja’briel Polite) and then I put her in contact with my family, and they handled it. So I, honestly, didn’t do much other than take the call and pass it on to somebody who has more resources than I do. I heard a BC brother was in need, and his family was in need, and I did what I could to connect them to people that I know.”
A few days later, Jacob Horne met Julian Polite and his son for the first time “when they pulled up in my driveway,” he said.
Jacob, Brittani, Tracy, Julian and Julian Jr., spent the day loading Polite’s truck with furniture that had belonged to the Hesling family.
“BC was so giving to my family in a time of need that there was no way I wouldn’t be proud to help a BC grad who was going through very difficult circumstances, much like we were, to the utmost degree that I could,” Jacob Horne said. “They’ve gone through a bad tragedy, something none of us ever hope we have to deal with, and that’s what makes the BC community great. I had never met Julian. I didn’t know him. All I knew was he’s a BC grad. And being a BC grad, there’s a lot of expectations for experiences that you have and how you hold yourself up. And to my knowledge, from everything that everybody has told me, Julian just exemplifies what being an alumnus means.”
Despite losing everything, Julian Polite said he and his family are blessed by God to have the support of family and friends; some old, others new.
“The Horne family called me,” Polite said. “They sure did. I was just like, ‘This is so weird for me right now but OK.’ I had never met Jacob. I found out he’s the principal of BC. It was very weird but I embraced it because that’s the BC way. We got a mattress and a dresser and box springs and all kinds of dishes, a whole lot of essentials that were extremely helpful at that time. I feel so humbled.
“To have people coming together with me in my time of need, to have a complete stranger just help me … my wife’s a bit mushy and she was just overwhelmed by the generosity of the BC way,” Polite continued. “She said, ‘I’ve never even heard of this place but I already want my son to go there.’ It was awesome. It was overwhelming, the generosity of the people who helped us. I make good money, don’t get me wrong, but we were saving to buy a house. That’s why we were living where we were. But (the fire) put us back to square one and starting all over. But a lot of good people showed up and helped. We’ve had help from friends. Tybee Maritime Academy helped out a lot, too.”
Julian Polite said Owens, like the Horne family, also provided his family with hope.
“It’s just overwhelming generosity,” Polite said. “When we were displaced, we had a place to go but it wasn’t anything where we could catch our bearings. Lamar got us in contact with someone who allowed us to stay at an Air B&B downtown with our family. It was fully furnished. It was so nice. It allowed us to decompress. When the firefighter told me it was a total loss, the Red Cross came in and told me they would be able to help. So we contacted them. But right away we got a call from Lamar’s people. He reached out to us. They reached out to us. It was really cool.
“That’s the BC brotherhood,” Polite continued. “People don’t understand. I can see a classmate that I went to school with right now and, if I see him on Facebook and see he’s in trouble or I see he’s in need, I can call him up, hit him up, get him chatting right now and it’s almost like right back to where we left off (in high school). The BC way is to help others. If it’s not out of your way, or even if it is out of your way, just give a little help to others. It’s just the right thing to do. We certainly want to pay that generosity forward.”
Jacob Horne described Brittani’s brother, Chris, as “a giver.” He said he has no doubt that Chris and Brittany Hesling would be proud that many of their home furnishings now belong to the Polite family.
“When you went to Chris’ house as a guest, he dropped everything,” Jacob Horne said. “He cared for people. He cared for others above himself. He cared about everybody.”