The husband of Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski paid tribute to his principled and courageous wife at a vigil Thursday — the day after her death in a car accident.
Walorski, 58, died along with her assistants Zachery Potts, 27, of Mishawaka, Indiana, and Emma Thomson, 28, of Washington, D.C.
Their SUV crossed the centerline and crashed head-on into an oncoming vehicle driven by Edith Schmucker, 56, of Nappanee, who was also killed.
The accident happened near the town of Nappanee in northern Indiana.
Friends and relatives of Walorski and her team gathered in Elkhart, near where she lived, to pay tribute.
Dean Swihart, who was married to Walorski for 27 years, told the crowd at Jamestown High School how proud he was of his wife.
“Jackie took charge of whatever room she walked into, and it wasn’t because she was six feet tall,” Swihart said.
Dean Swihart is seen Thursday night in tribute to his wife Jackie Walorski, who was killed in a car accident on Wednesday
Walorski and Swihart were married for 27 years and met in 1994 in Indiana
Crowds of benefactors are seen Thursday night at a vigil to pay tribute to the four people killed in the crash
Swihart (center) is seen with friends and relatives during the wake at Jamestown High School in Elkhart
Born and raised in South Bend, Walorski graduated from Riley High School in 1981 and attended Taylor University.
After college, Walorski returned to the area and became a television reporter for WSBT-TV.
She then went on to work for the St. Joseph County Humane Society, followed by a job at Ancilla College, where she served from 1991 to 1996.
Swihart and Walorski met in 1994: He took her to the St. Joseph County fairground on their first date.
“She says, ‘I’ve met the man I’m going to marry,'” Swihart recalled Thursday night.
“She knew that on the first date. I’m slow.’
Swihart and Walorski are in the photo together. He stayed in Indiana and worked as a schoolteacher, as she represented the state in DC
Swihart and Walorski were united by their deep-seated Christian beliefs
The couple is pictured at home with their dog
The couple married a year later and moved to Romania for four years in 2000, where she did missionary work and launched Impact International, helping children and providing medical supplies. On their return to Indiana, Walorski entered politics.
Swihart, a teacher, added: “I couldn’t be more proud of the life my wife has lived.
‘She lived her faith. She knew it was her. She wouldn’t be knocked down, she wouldn’t flinch.’
Others shared how Walorski had inspired them.
Tim Wesco, who replaced Walorski in the Indiana United States House of Representatives in 2010 and still holds her former seat, praised Walorski for believing in him when he decided to run for office at age 23.
“I called her and said, ‘Jackie, I’m thinking about running to your seat,'” he told the wake.
And she said, ‘Tim, do it. We need more Christians in government.”
“She believed in me as a 23-year-old boy, and because she believed in me, I believed in myself.”
Swihart and Walorski pictured together in Washington DC
Investigators determined that the SUV driven by Zachery Potts, 27, (left) crossed the centerline for unknown reasons in a rural area near the town of Wakarusa. Walorski communications director Emma Thomson (right) was also killed
Congresswoman Susan Brooks told the crowd, “I represented Indiana’s 5th congressional district with Jackie. Proudly represented the 2nd District.
“We went to the convention together and she was my sister. She was my best friend in Congress. She trusted that Bible every night and every morning.’
Walorski’s brother told the crowd that the family was suffering.
“This is really, really hard,” he said.
“I didn’t want my mom to go through this and a funeral and who knows what else.
“You can’t believe how much this hurts.”
But Tim Henke, the organizer of the wake, said he hoped she would be remembered for her positive outlook.
“When Jackie looked at you, she looked with eyes of hope,” he said.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer, who was one of the last people to speak to lawmakers, claims she was in town to learn about recent successes in the medical device sector. The photo shows cars being towed away from the accident site
The southbound vehicle of Walorski and her staff collided with a northbound vehicle entering their lane
Walorski and her staff were in Warsaw, Indiana, earlier Wednesday to visit Medartis headquarters. A car is towed after the accident
Indiana House lawmakers bow their heads as Republican Rep. Timothy Wesco (left) GOP US Rep. Jackie Walorski honors,
Indiana GOP House Speaker Todd Huston, rear left, bows his head during a tribute to beloved lawmaker
Under Indiana law, it is up to local Republican officials to choose a candidate to replace Walorski in the election ballot.
Republican government leader Eric Holcomb has the authority to schedule a special election for the remainder of Walorski’s current term, which ends this year.
The governor’s office and the state Republican Party both said Thursday it was too early to say when those decisions would be made as tributes to Walorski’s public service continued.
The United States Senate Chaplain included her, Thomson, and Potts in the chamber’s opening prayer, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised all three in his opening address.
He acknowledged “how big a hole Jackie and her team leave” in the Capitol.
In Indianapolis, members of the Indiana House, where Walorski served for six years before running for Congress, bowed their heads on Thursday as Rep. Wesco said a prayer for Walorski.
Wesco called Walorski a “mentor” who was “passionate in everything she did.”
“Her faith was central to her as a person, and her faith gives us hope today,” Wesco said.
“None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.”
Indiana’s last special election for a congressional seat was in 2010, when Republican Representative Mark Souder resigned shortly after winning the May primary.
Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels decided to hold the special election at the same time as the November general election for the full two-year term, citing the potential cost of a separate election and the convenience to voters.
Indiana Republican US Senator Todd Young described Walorski as incredibly smart with a great sense of humor.
“She wore her values and her beliefs on them on her sleeve,” Young said.
“Unlike so many people in public life, she wasn’t really wary of who she was and why she believed other things.”