“I could see my brother smiling,” Sam Hogsed said speaking of his younger brother, Scott, whose death in a vehicle accident at age fourteen had changed Sam’s life as well as the lives of many others both inside and outside the family.
“We gotta go work.” Scott, a year and a half Sam’s junior, had said. We gotta hoe Granny Cook’s tobacco.”
“Ah, don’t worry about that. We’re having a good time right now. We’ll do that later,” Sam had replied.
Not too long afterward, the truck with Scott and friends riding in the truck bed began fishtailing as it maneuvered the curves of Fires Creek Road in Hayesville, North Carolina. Someone screamed and the truck came to a screeching halt for Scott had fallen off. Pippit Pittman jumped off the bed and ran back after his friend. Sam close behind, found Pippit pulling his hair in anguish and Scott bleeding from his skull, nose and ears.
“I picked Scott up,” Sam said, “and carried him about a hundred yards. When I put him on the truck, his head hit the tailgate. That terrorized me for years. I was screaming and hollering and he was bleeding really bad and they were throwing me towels and the guy that was driving, he couldn’t drive he was so messed up and so Tim Grey jumped over and he was driving and Tim took us out of Fires Creek running 80 to 100 miles an hour and the tailgate was down and I was trying to hang on to him and we were going as fast as the truck would run and thoughts went through my head like, ‘Am I going to have to let him go to save my own life?’ You don’t’ get over that real easy.”
Sam describes how the medical staff had wrapped Scott to put him on the helicopter that carried him to a hospital in Atlanta where he lived for two days. “They took him off life support, but he came to me in a vision down there. He looked at me and he walked through the door and it was over then, but I lived twenty something years just over and over watching him die.”
However, after reliving the torturous vision of Scott’s death every day for so many years, God gave Sam a new one — the motivating vision of his brother’s smiling face. It came at a Christian retreat called Emmaus to which Sam’s wife, Shannon, had insisted that he go. “That day when a man at the retreat said, ‘I’m going to pray you get a new vision,’ it was like bam. I could see my brother smiling. I could see us playing ball; I could see him running the ball,” Sam said. “It was like a vision coming back to me (one he had sensed God trying to show him years earlier). That night was like watching a video in my head and God gave me a vision on how to lay stuff out and how to do events. That’s some of what I learned from all this.”
Since that day when he knew God’s healing touch, helping other children, young people and adults truly live days of joy has become Sam’s passion. Scott loved football, baseball and tennis, but it was his love for the outdoors that led his parents – Bruce and Helen Cook Hogsed — and brothers – Ivan, Jack, Sam, and Eric — to sponsor the Scott Hogsed Youth Conservation Day in a beautiful valley on Martin’s Creek in Western North Carolina. Modeled after an event in Asheville, N.C., family and friends began this day of fun honoring the memory of their loved one who had lived life to the fullest, working hard on his family’s farm, playing with his brothers and loving Jesus. Realizing how healing the event had been for them, Sam and his family have continued hosting the event each year, but honoring a different person with the prayer that others may experience its healing effects. This year’s event honored Joshua Zalunardo, a young man who died of brain stem glioma at age fourteen.
On a late August day in 2016, while hundreds of smiling, happy faces basked in the sun shining through the morning mist on a hillside overlooking tents, shooting ranges, poles and a pond, the opening ceremony began: The color guard held the United States flag high on the mountainside as Elaina Cook sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” Colton and Levi led the pledge, and Reba Ingram prayed. After the Saint Andrews Pipe Band dressed in kilts played “Amazing Grace,” Gino Zalunardo stepped forward to honor his son, Joshua. His tribute ended by his encouraging youth to appreciate and enjoy their lives, to keep their disappointments in perspective and to see their blessings.
Freddy Cook, the property owner and his friend, Richard, then delighted the audience with their rendition of an old hunter’s song:
High on the mountain, tell me what you see.
Bear tracks, bear tracks lookin’ back at me.
Better get your rifle, boy, before it’s too late
‘Cause the bear’s got a little pig and headed through the gate.
He’s big around the middle and he’s broad across the rump
Runnin’ ninety miles an hour, takin’ thirty feet a jump.
Ain’t never been caught. He ain’t never been treed.
And some folks say he looks a lot like me.
Before Mike Kirkland’s canon shots began marking the progression of groups from one activity to the next, Richard of the Smokey Mountain Sportsman’s Association invited everyone to feast at the “mostly wild meal – bear, deer, frog legs, pork, fish…. They’ll tell you what it is when you come through… if they know… if we tell them. We may not tell them. We’ve got a mystery stew and I’m not going to tell you what’s in it. I promise you it won’t bite you. So try it. We’ve got some venison spaghetti. We’ve had guys here since Wednesday. They’ve been cooking twenty-four seven since Wednesday…. Just go out there today and catch a big ole cat fish up there in that pond. Shoot a target and hit what you’re shooting at….”
And that is just what they did. The Murphy High School Archery Team showed kids how to draw a bow and shoot an arrow while the National Jake Federation, the TVA, the Game and Fish Commision, 4H Extension Agency and other groups taught and sponsored various activities such as climbing walls, fishing, and skeet shooting. The day culminated in the giving away of over $2500 in door prizes.
“It’s the light on their faces,” one volunteer said. “My favorite memory of the past twelve years is of a little girl fishing in the pond and she caught a huge catfish, bigger than she could pull in. I will never forget the expression on her face. A lot of these kids have never been fishing or hunting. It’s a big deal for them to shoot a bow or a gun.”