Maintaining a Legacy: Markatos family helps build homes, awareness for deceased daughter
For Lori Markatos, a handful of memories epitomize why the world lost such a monumental force for good with the death of her daughter, Holland senior Kelly Markatos.
"She always cared about people's problems and their happiness," Lori said. "She always felt sorry for people who didn't have money and didn't have a home. She was that way since she was a little kid."
While on vacation in Mexico, Lori saw Kelly's caring nature first hand: A young Kelly had given a freshly served ice cream cone to a small boy sitting on the side of the street, only because she felt bad he didn't have one, too.
That gracious mentality carried on as she grew into an adult.
"If she had friends who were having problems at home, she'd always invite them over to our house," Lori said. "She was just a giving type of person."
Kelly died from probable complications of bulimia, which was confirmed by medical examiners last month. Prior to her passing, Kelly had interned at the Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity in Holland, setting the foundation for a career in caring – a path ultimately cut short too soon.
Yet through an annual memorial house build organized by Habitat and her parents in Kelly's name, her legacy of giving back can live on.
Building a home in memory
The Kelly Markatos Memorial Build will help continue her work by funding various Habitat projects on a yearly basis. Habitat's core function is to help house Michigan families and offer them a chance to own their homes, said Bev Crandall-Rice, development director at Lakshore HFH and Kelly's supervisor at the organization.
The first official Kelly Makatos Memorial Build is set to be completed in the summer months, and fundraising efforts have already raised $30,000 toward building the home. Habitat homes typically cost $75,000 to complete construction.
Fundraising for Kelly's project has taken place in a number of ways, including car washes, corporate events and sales of merchandise, such as inspiration bracelets created by her friends and former roommates.
Sales of the bracelets have been primarily isolated to campus and direct orders from Habitat's website, however, the organization is working on a PayPal option to streamline orders.
Some CMU classes have even helped out in the donation gathering process, including courses that Kelly had planned on registering for in the Spring session, or had been registered in when she died, Crandall-Rice said.
Lori, who works at Johnson Controls Automotive, said a portion of the funds came from coworkers during a Christmas event called Care and Share, which allows funds raised to be given to one of 30 charitable organizations.
"They all really rallied and made sure Habitat for Humanity got the money for the family," she said. "The nice thing about Johnson Controls is that they match what the employee contributions are as well."
The fact fundraising efforts that only began months ago have already halfway funded Kelly's project is a testament to the many lives she touched.
Crandall-Rice said she was proud to be one of those people fortunate enough to know her.
"To have her interning at our ministry throughout the summer months was a blessing to me," she said. "She loved what she did because she loved people. It shown through in everything she produced in her marketing and communications work, which is what she did for us while she was here."
Crandall-Rice added that Kelly's work was a vital piece of the puzzle that helped families connect the dots to a successful future.
A few of her projects with the company remained unfinished, and the memorial builds, Crandall-Rice explained, are a way of finishing that work.
"To be able to put energy back into her legacy and those projects that she wanted to complete is very powerful," she said.
A family coping
Aside from the Habitat projects, Kelly's brother, Chris Markatos, is doing his part to protect his sister's legacy – and more importantly, to ensure that other families won't lose their loved ones to eating disorders as he did.
Chris, a freshman at Michigan State University, works for a local start-up company called breakupgoods.com, a reseller of goods such as cars, books and other gadgets being sold primarily as the result of divorce and estate sales.
Chris said a portion of the profits incurred on sales, approximately $1,000 worth, will be going to a charity focused on eating disorder prevention and awareness. Although Chris and the owners of breakupgoods.com have yet to name an organization, he said Girls on the Run has his consideration.
Girls on the Run is a not-for-profit company that organizes youth development programs to help inspire self-respect and healthy lifestyle choices for pre-teen girls.
When Chris received the news of his sister's death, his world was swiftly crushed.
“The night before she passed, she dropped me off at MSU, and there was not a doubt that anything could be wrong with her,” he said. "It was really tough and difficult to stay focused. I dropped off all my classes except those that I needed to stay enrolled."
Recently, Chris decided to not enroll in classes this semester, choosing instead to focus on his work with the company.
Despite appearing seemingly healthy, Chris and Lori said Kelly struggled with body image issues throughout her life in spurts, but was not a constant problem.
"We were dreading the news when the final report came out," Lori said. "We suspected that's what it would say. It's the only thing we could think of. She was 22 years old, she looked healthy, but when you have bulimia, you don't know what's happening with electrolytes inside the body. From the outside, she seemed fine."
Learning the facts behind Kelly’s death offered the parents little solace, and even their work with Habitat hasn't taken the pain away.
Yet Chris said his work has offered his life some sense of normalcy again, if any. Most of all, knowing that he is helping solve an issue that affected his family so deeply has given him a sense of purpose, as well.
"I think about what we could have done to prevent it, and if maybe something could have been different," he said. "I don't want anyone to wake up with a phone call from your father in tears saying that your big sister is gone"