LAFARGEVILLE — Korbin Countryman was at his neighbor’s front door with a card containing $150 when he collapsed and died two days before Christmas, his life ending at 22 years old while he was finishing a string of kind gestures.
Mr. Countryman, a lifelong LaFargeville native and young entrepreneur who dropped out of high school before becoming successful as a business owner in cleaning, burgers and a thrift shop, died on Thursday, Dec. 23. He went into cardiac arrest at the front door of Shane Chrisman and Kelly Thomson’s house, who live just a few doors down. His whole family was there along with EMS personnel who did CPR for 25 minutes. He was pronounced dead in the mudroom just inside the door, but at his feet was the card for his neighbors.
From finding their dog dead in the road and then wrapping it in a blanket so they didn’t have to see her, to returning the money they gave him for doing that, it was the neighborly acts he did in the days and minutes before his death that highlight the type of person he was.
Two days before his death, on the Tuesday night before Christmas, Mr. Countryman got a knock on his front door at his home on State Route 411 about a mile off Interstate 81. He lived there with his mother, father and brother. It was a woman they didn’t know asking if they were missing a dog as there was a blue heeler dead in the road outside the house. Mr. Countryman’s brother, Jacobb, has a blue heeler, but it wasn’t his in the road. Mr. Countryman went out and saw the dog, and it would turn out that its name was Fancy, which the owners chose after Reba McEntire’s country song. The connection was unknown to him, but “Fancy” was one of Mr. Countryman’s favorite songs, and he would often sing it loudly and confidently.
Mr. Countryman and his brother started asking around and found that Mr. Chrisman a few doors down was missing their dog, Fancy. Mr. Chrisman came with them back down the road and it was confirmed that it was the neighbor’s dog.
“I was torn,” Mr. Chrisman said. “I don’t want to pick up my dead dog, but it’s also my responsibility.”
Mr. Chrisman went back to his house, and his girlfriend, Ms. Thomson, went down there with their car. Without asking, so they didn’t have to see their dog like that, Mr. Countryman instead wrapped Fancy in a blanket and put her in their car.
“I was so grateful for that gesture,” Mr. Chrisman said. “That means a lot to me. You don’t hear about that a lot. You might need a cup of sugar or whatever I guess. But they wrapped her up and went above and beyond. They are very, very nice people.”
Mr. Chrisman and Ms. Thomson said their goodbyes and buried Fancy that night.
The next day, Mr. Chrisman said he was in Clayton when he picked up a card to thank Mr. Countryman. He stuck $100 in the card and took it over to his home. Mr. Countryman wasn’t there but his mother, Bonnie, was. The neighbor dropped off the card and said he told Bonnie that whatever she did raising her kids, it worked.
“He starts to cry and he’s got this card and he says ‘I’m so grateful for your children and how they were able to come and help us,’” Bonnie said. “And then he handed us the card.”
Mr. Countryman later got home and saw the $100. He couldn’t accept it. Mr. Chrisman said he, of course, wished he would, but he understood that’s not how the 22-year-old was. Mr. Countryman was the one to help others financially or in any way, no matter if he liked you or not. So, accepting a gift for doing something he believed was right just wasn’t going to happen, so Mr. Countryman and Mr. Chrisman agreed that the money could be returned.
“We did a good deed, yeah, but we really didn’t feel like we needed the money,” said Jacobb Countryman, Mr. Countryman’s brother. “So Korb took an extra 50 bucks up there with the one hundred to show his appreciation, and it led him to death.”
Mr. Chrisman ran to get Mr. Countryman’s family when he collapsed in the mudroom. Bonnie remembers she was cooking bacon at the time. She drove over there as fast as she could, with her front door swinging back and forth as she didn’t bother closing it.
“It’s so weird to see your son laying on a porch with a white sheet over him. Is this real?’” she said. “People kept driving by. This isn’t really happening.”
It’s not lost on his family that the cardiac arrest likely had something to do with Mr. Countryman’s weight, but they still know he was only 22 years old. His brothers think of people who are over 600 pounds and live a long life.
And Mr. Countryman was aware of his size and didn’t care too much about it. It was just part of his life and he had moved on. He was able to carry just about anything around, even his dirt bike. He was agile enough to continue his work, and he was confident in his own skin.
It was different when he was younger. His mother said he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade after the harassment and bullying about his weight became too much.
If there was any question that he dropped out because of a lack of drive or commitment, Mr. Countryman proved that otherwise. He became almost infatuated with earning money for himself and his family. He collected different vintage dollars and coins and revolved almost everything he did around the simple question of will it make him money? He recently bought a limo. The Department of Motor Vehicles wouldn’t license it, so he traded it for a burger cart and invested $1,000 into the grills shortly before he died. Shrimp scampi was his favorite to cook, but he loved it all. He was going to tow the burger cart with one of his old snowmobiles and take it to baseball games, softball on ice or race tracks. He was part owner of his family cleaning business, in which he invested thousands of dollars. He and his mom also recently bought a church in Carthage to open a thrift shop. While that venture likely won’t continue without Mr. Countryman, his brothers plan to see the burger stand through, and the family cleaning business will continue running.
His mother has taken comfort in the acts he did before he died, but she still has a hard time. She said she feels good when people say it takes time to grieve. She looks for signs that her son is happy now and found one when she cleaned his bathroom — a dime on the floor dated 1999, the year he was born. That brought her relief, along with her son cementing his legacy in kindness by giving back until the very end.
“I didn’t lose him to anything else except for pride,” she said. “I know it’s rude and I shouldn’t do it, but I have asked other parents to pick the death of their child. What would you pick? You don’t, but if I had to, by damned that would have been Korb’s way.”