Golf tournament sends strong message to domestic violence victims: Never Go Back

Jana Benscoter

The scene at Honey Run Country Club on Saturday was a stark contrast to the one nearly two years ago when  Karen Kuykendall Nordsick approached police officers on Lisburn Road in Warrington Township to ask why they had shut the road down.

The answer changed her life.

Lori Heiland, left, of Chanceford Township, and Karen Kuykendall Nordsick, of Warrington Township, share a hug whle waiting for golfers at the 12th hole, to offer a chance at winning the Pot of Gold raffle during the second annual Never Go Back, Laurie's Legacy Charity Golf Outing at Honey Run Golf Course in Dover Township, Saturday, May 27, 2017. There were 72 participants in the event. All proceeds will benefit Still Waters shelter in Hanover. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Kuykendall Nordsick’s 53-year-old sister, Laurie Kuykendall Kepner, had been shot and killed by her estranged husband .

In Laurie's memory, “Never Go Back — Laurie’s Legacy Golf Tournament” was created. The second annual event, held Saturday, drew 72 golfers. Proceeds of the tournament will go to Still Waters shelter in Hanover.

Between juggling calls to her iPhone, refilling drinks in a cooler and explaining the Pot of Gold raffle to those at the tournament, Kuykendall Nordsick accepted hugs and donations.

“Laurie had five months of freedom,” Kuykendall Nordsick said. “She was a whole different person. She was going out, she was dancing, and she made new friends, more friends.”

But, that was after 33 years of living in an abusive relationship. Laurie  was a small-business owner, Kuykendall Nordsick said, and wanted to pick up a few of her seamstress items at her former Wellsville-area home. She returned to the residence May 29, 2015, with her friend Barbara Schrum.

As the women were picking up Laurie’s belongings, her estranged husband,  Martin Kepner, appeared and shot both of them in the home's driveway before turning the gun on himself.

“I had a gut feeling,” Kuykendall Nordsick said. “I called her like 20 times. The police and the fire company had the road shut down, and they told all of us to remain in our houses. I walked to the end of the street demanding answers.

"I heard on the walkie, ‘I think I have the sister of the victim.’ That’s when it became a reality.”

Advocacy: "Never go back" is a phrase that Kuykendall Nordsick said every woman, or man, who is being abused needs to hear. She said those would be her first words to anyone who is in an abusive relationship.

“There were red flags, but (Laurie) always made excuses for him,” Kuykendall Nordsick said. “I figured she must have been OK with it.

"I recently found out he choked her to make her unconscious, and he threw her down the steps. She didn’t want people to look at him differently.

"He was a narcissist.”

Laurie went from being a “free spirit” to being under his spell, her sister said.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Kuykendall Nordsick. “I guess over time he had her beat down so much that she just believed him.”

Kindred spirits: Kuykendall Nordsick finds her older sister’s reflection in her life now. She’s sewing — just like Laurie did — and creating stained glass angels. It helps her deal with the emotional turmoil of losing her sister.

The second annual Never Go Back, Laurie's Legacy Charity Golf Outing at Honey Run Golf Course in Dover Township, Saturday, May 27, 2017. There were 72 participants in the event. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“I really want to do this to help other women who may be in the same situation,” Kuykendall Nordsick said. “I want them to know there’s help out there. When they’re strong enough to do something about it, there are people there to help."

Through grief, Kuykendall Nordsick has bonded with others who have suffered similar  losses. Lisa Prince, of New Freedom, lost her daughter Jessie at the hands of her daughter's boyfriend. She was killed Jan. 21, 2014.

“My daughter was in the same situation, my daughter’s boyfriend shot her and shot himself,” 55-year-old Prince said. “He was jealous. She was friends with everybody. He was just jealous because everybody liked her. She knew everybody from everywhere.”

Though she originally saw no reason to distrust Jessie's boyfriend, Prince said she found out more details about his character after the tragedy.

Prince said pictures of her daughter adorn every room of her house. Prince  said she never wants to see another family to go through what hers did.

That's one of the benefits of the fundraiser, she said. The event helps to spread the word about domestic violence.

Still Waters, in partnership with the YWCA York, helps those suffering  domestic violence with their immediate needs and long-term transitions. The organization supplies individuals with anything from clothing to medication, as well as knowledge on starting life over again.

“People have to take responsibility for stuff like this,” said 60-year-old golfer Jackie Heilman, of East Manchester Township. “Events like this will help people, at least give them a resource.

"This will help anyone who is trying to get help.”