Teresa Easterday is one of those special people you could describe as “a breath of fresh air.” She is a self-proclaimed hugger with a warm smile, a genuine interest in others, and an energetic presence that I find contagious.
When we got together and I shared with her my amazement about reading that both her husband and father-in-law were born on Easter day, Teresa laughed and said that I must know that Easter is her favorite holiday. “Well, of course, Teresa ‘Easter day’,” I replied.
When I tell Easterday that I want to tell her story so her neighbors can get to know her better, she explains, “Without my faith, my story cannot be written.”
You and I are as likely to meet Teresa out serving people in our community as we are to find her at her home in Britton Falls. When I ask her about the wide range of outreach programs she’s participated in and led, her eyes twinkle. She shares the ways others’ lives have improved and the plans that are underway to help even more people. Families, children, veterans, and neighbors have been on the receiving end of her time. The genuine joy Teresa has for helping others is visibly evident.
As we talk, I learn that Teresa’s most impactful service to others was born out of personal tragedy. Teresa’s husband, Barry, was in a horrific car accident in 1989. He was taken to the hospital, admitted to the intensive care unit, and put into an induced coma. Teresa was told that Barry had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and that the damage was so extensive he might not make it through the night. The possibility that this man, whom she had loved since they met in their high school production of “The King and I,” might be gone by morning was terrifying.
Thankfully, Barry survived the accident, but the TBI was permanent. He could not walk or do things for himself such as eating, and he had no short-term memory of his family or where he lived. Teresa was told that her husband would possibly never be able to live at home with their family, and it was recommended that she find a nursing home to care for him. As she learned the many ways Barry’s brain injury would affect him, she understood in an instant that her family was forever changed. At the time, their children were ages three, six, and nine years old.
“More than anything, I wanted to keep my family intact,” Teresa emphasized. To do this, she had to find a job to make ends meet, assume all parenting responsibilities, try to help her husband become the healthiest possible version of himself with a TBI, and lead her family to adapt to the many necessary and mostly unwanted changes in their lives. It seemed to be the lowest of lows.
On many days over the next several years, Teresa’s big goal was for her and her family to make it through to the next day. She had to focus on taking one step at a time. She worked three jobs, one of which was her own interior design business, utilizing her degree from Purdue University in interior design. She did it all while raising three children and supporting them and her husband.
Counseling was a necessity for her, Teresa tells me, because after the accident, it was as though she was married to someone else. Understanding and accepting the ways her family had to adapt and change was painful. “At times it felt as though I had lost my husband and my children had lost their father, but without a funeral.”
In the midst of this pain, she tells me she was sustained emotionally and physically by her family, church family, and a small circle of Christian friends. Her gratitude and love for them is beyond measure. She credits God for bringing these amazing people into her life.
When I ask Teresa how she learned about God, I find out that the seeds of her belief were planted in her home as a child and that she attended a Christian school from first through eighth grade in Seymour, Indiana. She tells me that based on her beliefs about Jesus, she committed to a personal relationship between her and God. She shares that her upbringing also instilled the importance of family and the priority it should be. She tells me about the adult women’s Bible study she later joined and how it deepened her faith.
As we talk further, Teresa shares that years before Barry’s accident, her faith carried her through other difficult times. As newly adoptive parents, Teresa and Barry were faced with heartbreaking news when their adopted baby girl was diagnosed with significant special needs. They found out that she had Congenital Dysarthria, which adversely affects the muscles needed for speech production. In addition, she was diagnosed with Congenital Nystagmus, an abnormality caused by a nerve that does not develop in the eye that can lead to a severe loss of sight. A cyst was found on her pituitary gland, meaning their precious 5-month-old baby needed brain surgery. Doctors also detected a pre-natal stroke and discovered that she had Cerebral Palsy.
The Easterday's had not known that they were adopting a baby with special needs, and they had to learn quickly what to do to care for her serious health issues. Among other things, they were told that their daughter would not be able to read or speak. Teresa tells me she found a verse in her Bible that soothed her. This passage, found in Romans 8:28 (ESV), is her life verse. It reads, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Ultimately, in spite of years of struggles and obstacles and against the odds, this daughter learned to read and speak. She went on to win the Abe Lincoln Scholarship Award, created to recognize students who have overcome unimaginable hardships and to provide financial aid to assist them in continuing their goals. When she accepted this award, she spoke in front of more than 500 people!
Teresa beams as she shares this beautiful story with me and expresses her thankfulness to God for what she describes as His miracle. This daughter has graduated from college with honors and now works with adults with physical and mental challenges!
While many people might only see injustice in having two family members battle serious health issues, Teresa recognizes that her daughter’s journey prepared her in some ways for the steps and sacrifices her family would have to make with Barry’s brain injury.
The learning curve on how to live with a TBI is steep. The needs of people with this injury are ever-changing. Securing available services for a loved one can feel like being lost in an Indiana corn maze. The Head Injury Foundation of Indiana, or HIFI, provided Teresa with a wealth of information. A few years later, she went to work for HIFI part time. While there, she secured a grant to develop a support system to guide families on how to receive the services needed to help their loved ones with a TBI. Teresa also helped form a Head Injury Board to lead these initiatives.
All the while, her interior design business was growing. Teresa especially loved the process of taking a space, visualizing what it could be, and putting the vision into action. She went back to school part-time at IUPUI to study Construction Project Management. This step led to work as a project manager for larger residential and corporate buildings, including a restaurant downtown.
As much as she enjoyed the work, her life was becoming increasingly difficult for her to be available for her family during the hours they needed her the most. She knew that she needed a job with flexible scheduling. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a workable option in construction management.
Her next career step was in real estate. While she gained time flexibility in this career, Teresa added a new risk. She gave up having a regular salary for a plan to earn commissions as her means of income. Then in 2007, the stock market crashed. But given what Teresa already had gone through in her life, she knew how to keep perspective and pressed onward.
One of her first real estate clients is now one of her dearest friends. Teresa took Ruth Terpstra to Britton Falls to consider building a home. They checked out the model homes and the Chateau. In the process, they decided to buy adjacent lots so they could become next door neighbors! They have now lived in Britton Falls for more than 15 ½ years.
When she’s home, Teresa enjoys playing pickleball, relaxing poolside with a good book, and having quiet time in the morning to read and study the Bible. She started the first Bible study for Britton Falls residents, and she is thrilled that her neighbors’ interest and participation have led to offering four studies.
Teresa appreciates the variety of ways Britton Falls residents can get connected and stay active. She explains that she has seen people move to this community from all over the country, and often the reason is to be near their kids. They soon find that they have a lot of time when they aren’t with their kids but don’t know a lot of other people. One of the great things about Britton Falls is that there are so many opportunities to meet people, participate in activities together, and build friendships.
Teresa has some wonderful friendships and is excited for an upcoming trip with three girlfriends to Santa Fe to celebrate their fifty years of friendship. She still works full-time as a real estate agent/broker and has received the 5-Star Real Estate Agent Award for thirteen consecutive years, or since its’ inception. This is a prestigious honor in which candidates must be nominated by their peers, industry professionals, and consumers.
Teresa and I talk about what brings us joy and how the best things happen when we have passions and share them with others. One of her current volunteer organizations is Turn Away No Longer. The mission of this program is to build a home for foster children to change the way their foster care experience begins when they enter the system. Teresa is also active with Katie’s Boutique, which is a children’s store for all foster children in Indiana. She exclaims, “It is so important to get involved. I want people my age to know that even though we are in our 4th quarter of this life, we can still make a huge impact!”
Teresa and Barry celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January. Although his TBI has its limitations, overall he is doing well. She points to this as another one of God’s miracles. They volunteer on the Ushers Team together at their church on Sundays. They are grateful to have all three of their grown children living in town. And they love being Mimi and Poppy to their four grandchildren ages two to eight years old.
Teresa notes that she’s not sure if retirement is for her, personally. With all I know about her, that news comes as no surprise!