OCEAN SPRINGS -- Sandra Camphor thought she was dead, so she closed her eyes.
When she opened them, the theater director who'd retired from Ocean Springs High School realized she was not dead or even harmed. But the living room of her small house was pretty much toast. Lightning during an early-morning storm April 28 hit a tree that fell into her roof.
"All of a sudden," she said, "boom, swoosh -- the entire living room ceiling came down around me."
Oblivious to her bad back, Camphor scrambled outside and alerted her best friend for life, who came and got her. Janet Fletcher, another close friend, called her husband.
"A tree fell through Sandra's roof," she told Mike Fletcher, who works at Ingalls Shipyard. "Can you go see what you can do?"
Mike Fletcher has been at the house almost every day since then. He wakes up at 4 a.m., goes to his job, works at Camphor's house when he gets off, eats dinner and goes to bed.
To explain why, he reaches into his front pocket then unfolds his hand to reveal a silver crucifix in his palm.
"It's what you are supposed to do," he said. "It was just automatic."
Help steps in
Fletcher is a helper in this world, but it is especially important for him to help Camphor, who has nurtured generations, including the Fletchers' three children.
"She's done so many good things for the kids all these years," he said, and he means more than teaching them English and theater. "She's taught them kindness, compassion and honesty. All the good things."
Camphor's career ended in December, when medical problems forced her into early retirement at age 59. She had focused on the children all those years. She didn't even have washer-dryer hookups in her house.
Camphor lived alone, with her cats, having moved from north Mississippi in 1995 for a teaching job in Ocean Springs.
She started with one theater class and built a four-year program. Her competition classes won three top awards from the Mississippi Theater Association, including top honors for the final performance she oversaw, "Ralph Roister Doister." MTA also honored Camphor for her outstanding contributions to theater.
She stayed after school into the evenings as her cast and crew prepared for December competitions. She did the same for spring shows.
Emily Frieze, whom Camphor chose as student director this past year, outgrew her shyness in Camphor's public speaking and theater classes. She also learned she should not borrow Ms. Camphor's stapler without asking, because the teacher told her so in no uncertain terms.
Camphor had a booming voice and commanding presence, Frieze said. "She's so awe-inspiring in how much she knows.
"You want to impress her."
Like a number of Camphor's previous students, Frieze plans to major in theater when she attends Trinity University in San Antonio.
Campor said what she liked best about teaching was all the things she learned from her students. She is proud of all their accomplishments and she hopes one of them will win a Tony before she dies.
Fletcher wants to make sure Camphor is be comfortable in her house for years to come. She has a bad back and knees. He plans to install a walk-in shower, and has added lights in the living room and washer-dryer hookups in a small bedroom that will double as an office.
The Fletchers' daughter, Victoria, started a GoFundMe.com page to help with expenses. The Fletchers estimate total costs will be $30,000.
Meanwhile, Camphor is staying with the Fletchers.
"I do need help," she said, "and that's hard to deal with. I would help you if you needed it because that's the way I was raised. But it's really hard to ask for help . I really appreciate everybody coming together to help me."