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'Helpful, kind' friend is missed in Grain Valley

By Debbie Coleman-Topi Special to The Examiner

Those who knew Christina Claphan are not surprised she found a way to serve others – even after death. Claphan, known as “Kiki,” unexpectedly died at 46 in February, following a stroke.

Kiki Claphan

Shehad arranged to donate her organs, in some cases with life-saving results.

She posthumously received the Truman Heartland Community Foundation’s Grain Valley Citizen of the Year award at the foundation’s annual gala on Saturday.

Claphan’s siblings never considered not honoring her final wishes.

“My brother and I were absolutely OK with it,” said her sister, Leslie Keys. “I think she would be over the moon” about the transplants, she said, “excited she could help. … That’s just how she was. I’m very proud to have been her sister.”

Claphan’s life mission was helping others, and her outstretched hands reached many. That spirit started at home. After Keys was left a single parent due to divorce, Claphan moved in and helped raise her sister’s two daughters.

“She was a parent in our home, not just an aunt,” Keys said of her only sister. Her role was so pivotal, that “there are times now when I’m just lost without her,” she said. The sisters were close. A span of only 17 months lapsed between their births, and the two girls grew up being close-knit, spending hours together playing Barbies when young, Keys said.

Kiki’s college major was special education, and her career did not deviate from that path, which Keys considered her sister’s true calling. About 10 years ago, she discovered her place in the Grain Valley School District’s Sni-A-Bar Elementary, where she worked as a para-professional with children with special needs.

Principal Carrie Reich described Claphan as “the heart of the school. When we were all too busy to plan, she would organize a spirit day or food day,” she said, adding that Claphan made sure the staff “did not take ourselves too seriously.” As a tribute to birthdays, she performed a special song and dance.

“She was just fun all the time,” Reich said. “It’s just who she was.”

Knowing her family relied on her income for support, she also worked part-time at the Grain Valley Parks and Recreation Department, initially as a concessions attendant at the ball fields and Aquatics Center, said her supervisor, Melissa Strader. But her position soon grew as she managed concessions and the seasonal workers they employed.

Claphan served a stint as the front desk attendant at the Community Center, but soon added roles teaching classes and working in programs during a continuing array of special events, Strader said. She happily portrayed Mrs. Claus each Christmas.

“It was a perfect fit for her and her personality,” her supervisor said through tears. “She was a happy, helpful, kind person – very customer-service oriented. People were immediately drawn to her,” she said, adding that the department will feel her loss for a long time. 

“It will never be the same,” she said.

Claphan’s compassion did not end with her employment. After seeing a need, she started a Sunday school class for special-needs children at her family’s church.

“We had people coming just because we had a special needs class,” Keys said.

While her family knew of her spirit, they were not sure just how many lives their loved one personally touched until she lay in a hospital bed as doctors worked to save her life after suffering the stroke. Every seat in the hospital waiting room was filled, and the room soon was described as standing room only as news of her condition spread.

“Even the doctor was amazed at how many people were there for just one person,” Keys said. The same applied to the day of her visitation and funeral, where the family received condolences from dozens, some of whom they had never met.

Keys said, “Everyone loved Kiki.”

Many honored

More than a dozen people and organizations were honored Saturday night. Those were:

• Heartland Humanitarians – Brent Schondelmeyer and Lee Williams.

• Heartland Corporate Citizen – Speaks Chapels.

• Heartland Service Award – Junior Service League of Independence.

• Dr. Paul M. Thomson Professional Advisor of the Year – Adam Kliethermes.

• Blue Springs Citizen of the Year – James L. May.

• Grain Valley Citizen of the Year – Christina “Kiki” Claphan (posthumous).

• Independence Citizens of the Year – Stan and Michele Crumbaugh.

• Lake Tapawingo Citizen of the Year – Brad Cloverdyke.

• Lee’s Summit Citizen of the Year – Wyatt and Crystal Durgan.

• Raytown Citizens of the Year – Carol Frevert and Mary Oyler.

• Sugar Creek – Citizen of the Year Bill Haman.