ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Longtime St. Simons Island residents Don and Margie Varnadoe were on a trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary when they were killed in a train derailment over the weekend.
They were among three people who died when an Amtrak train that was traveling from Chicago to Seattle derailed Saturday afternoon in rural Montana.
The Vernadoes had lived on St. Simons Island for 45 years, spending a significant amount of time at St. Simons United Methodist Church. On Wednesday, News4Jax spoke with Senior Pastor Tom Jones, a close friend of the couple, who said the congregation just isn’t the same.
“They were just stellar members of our church,” Jones said. “They’re the type who are always here unless they were traveling. They love to travel.”
Don Varnadoe, 74, sold real estate for more than four decades and served on the church’s finance committee and as an usher. Margie Varnadoe, 72, was retired a retired teacher and administrator with the Glynn County School District and served with the church’s Stephen Ministry, aimed at helping get people through difficult times in their lives.
“It’s kind of ironic that she’s passed now, and it’s like all of us left behind need a Stephen minister, somebody to walk with us to get us through this difficult time,” Jones said. “The grief is almost palpable. I mean, we announced that Sunday morning and worship, and you could just sense over the congregation that this heaviness descended.”
Jones said the Varnadoes are going to be remembered, in large part, for their kindness and caring.
“These were two individuals who just genuinely cared for others,” Jones said. “They’re special people that have left an empty place in our hearts and in this community.”
Jones said he has been in close touch with the family, who on Wednesday traveled to Montana to provide final identification and collect the remains to return to Glynn County.
He that while the loss of the couple is painful, the family is comforted knowing that the two were able to spend a half-century together.
Investigators do not know the cause of the derailment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.