SIDNEY — The tiny community of Sidney may be small with a population of 181, but for eight years it was the home of one big personality: Lillikay.
And Lil’s bubbling persona wasn’t limited to the rural town. Almost from the time she was born she was collecting friends from every age group.
That was evident on Oct. 1 when more than 1,500 arrived at the Sidney Baptist Church to say goodbye to a little girl with a big heart.
Born June 26, 2004 to Wendell and Chrysti Westmoreland Turner, Lillikay spent the first eight weeks of her life at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
During her pregnancy, Chrysti only had one ultrasound and it showed no difficulties.
“We didn’t realize she was going to have problems. God blessed us there,” Chrysti said, thinking the knowledge would have put additional stress on her and the baby.
Lillikay was born with Nager Syndrome, a condition so rare that few have been diagnosed.
In order to correct the problems associated with it, Lillikay would undergo numerous surgeries for the underdevelopment of her cheek and jaw area and to correct hand function.
In the beginning, her parents were terrified their baby girl would not survive, but Lil proved to be a trouper.
So much, in fact, that she seemed to quickly rebound and would be outside playing with older brothers Dalton and Dawson when her mother thought she should still be inside recuperating.
Lil, it seems, had a mind of her own.
Her mother admits, “Lil was the boss. She ruled the roost.”
“She was just accepted as she was. I know she was different, but we didn’t know it,” her mother said.
And Lillikay never met a stranger.
While her many friends were varied, her family said she took a shine and loved those Caraway boys: Currie and Chris.
Another one of her favorites was Brent Dale.
“She called him, ‘My Brent,’” they said, laughing.
Lillikay was typical of her age group in the things she loved. Playing with friends, horseback riding, swimming, going to Branson, rodeos and church were some of her favorites.
And Lillikay loved music.
“She wasn’t very good but she loved to sing. She sure tried,” Chrysti said.
Her favorite song was “Victory in Jesus.”
It was a song Lillikay was known for.
On one occasion she had gone to Pleasant Plains with grandparents Arch and Linda Westmoreland, or Granny and Paw as she called them, along with Lula Phillips. On the way home Lillikay and Lula sang the old hymn non-stop until they arrived back at Sidney. It was then Lillikay decided to critique her co-singer’s singing ability.
“Ms. Lula, I think you need to go home and practice a little more,” she told her.
Her singing debuts were not limited to church, but at the rodeo arena as well.
After the rodeo, the cowboys and girls would stay to rope and Lillikay would climb into the announcer’s booth with her mother and notify everyone of who would be participating next. And, if there was a lull during the performance, she would break out with her “Victory in Jesus” song and prefer the cowboys wait until her rendition was over, her mother said.
“I can’t think of anything Lil didn’t enjoy. She loved to ride the sheep and in the grand entry. It was her favorite.”
And everything was positive in her world.
At one point, after she had surgery so that she would have the use of a thumb, a small child at the rodeo asked Lil, “What’s wrong with your tumb (thumb)?”
Without giving it a second thought, Lil responded, “God made it like that.”
“I know we babied her to a degree but she didn’t let her disabilities set her back. She had such a positive outlook on life.
“We did devote our life to Lillikay. The boys had to grow up so fast,” Chrysti said.
Her love for people was evident everywhere she went and when the family would go into Cave City to the restaurant owned by her uncle Russell Westmoreland, Lil would start waiting tables from the time she got there.
Chrysti said she would help sometimes and on one occasion Lil came home with $25 in tips while she only had $10.
“Lil didn’t meet no strangers,” her uncle said.
Like most children her age, Lillikay’s plan on what she wanted to be when she grew up changed on a daily basis.
If she was in doctor mode, the family got doctored; if she was in teacher, she taught them.
One of her favorite things was to go to Branson and her Granny Westmoreland took her on a regular basis with cousin Paisley.
“She loved Paisley and they played so well together,” her mother said.
“She was a very, very, very special little girl She was just a joy,” her uncle said.
It was the same thing at school. The second-grader at Mount Pleasant Elementary had no boundaries when it came to forming friendships. She was just as comfortable with the older children and teachers as she was with the ones in her own age group.
Everybody knew Lil.
Lillikay, along with another 8-year-old girl, was part of a documentary aired by a Little Rock television station when they both underwent surgery at Children’s on Sept. 25.
“I knew the last time she must have been in lots of pain. She was such a tough girl who never complained about the pain. She knew how to cope with it.”
Chrysti said when they arrived home, Lillikay was still smiling even though she was hurting that night.
The family had never prepared themselves for the possibility of losing her because she had always bounced back after all her numerous surgeries.
That Friday night, Lil died peacefully in her sleep.
“He just let her go to sleep. She was so child-like, so innocent,” her heart-broken mother said, wiping away the tears.
As the family prepared for the memorial service they had no idea their little girl had influenced so many lives.
Even now, Chrysti said she continues to get cards and letters from people saying they came but left because the line was so long with more than 1,500 there to say goodbye.
“We did not realize how many lives she did impact. People have already said they have made a profession of faith. That is the legacy she has left,” her mother said.
The doctor who did Lil’s last surgery was also there.
Dr. Barbera Honnebeir told the family she plans to establish a Lillikay Turner National Foundation for children with facial disfigurements. “We had good doctors. They were a part of our family,” Chrysti said.
Knowing there are many dark days ahead, Chrysti said one of the things she will miss most will be the mornings.
-“I always loved waking her up. She would always turn over and look and smile at you and just make your day. She was the cutest little old thing.
“I know it’s selfish, but I would give anything to have her back. But right now, she is singing in heaven.”
Today, the population of Sidney is one less, but in just eight short years Lillikay Allison Turner made a significant impact.