For the love of pets

Deb Berry, secretary of the board of directors of Raleigh County Humane Society, left, Paula Wykle and Rachel Cornett look over plans on the site where the Delaney Wykle Animal Wellness Center will be built. The site is near Beckley Elementary School.(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

Delaney Wykle’s legacy to her hometown is one of compassion for those who need it most.

Thanks to a substantial donation from Todd and Rachel Cornett, the Humane Society of Raleigh County announced that the Delaney Wykle Animal Wellness Center will be built on Grey Flats Road this coming spring. 

Delaney, 22, died in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas on July 4, 2019, while on a trip with her childhood friend, Kameron Cline, also of Beckley.

Cline's father, local entrepreneur and philanthropist Chris Cline, and pilot David Jude of Wyoming County died with her on the flight in Cline's private aircraft, along with Brittney Layne Searson, 21, of Florida, Jillian Nicole Clark, 22, of Louisiana, and pilot Geoffrey Lee Painter, 52, of Great Britain.

Since Delaney's death, a number of people have reported that the young woman brightened their lives with her kindness and sense of adventure. An anonymous donor has established scholarships in her name at West Virginia University, where she had graduated in 2019.

The vet center will honor Delaney, an animal lover, by providing veterinary care to shelter animals, including spay and neuter services. Eventually, said Humane Society of Raleigh County (HSRC) Secretary Deb Berry, the shelter will provide spay and neuter services for pets, too.

"We have talked about putting a vet clinic in there for a number of years," reported Berry. "Actually, we'd had a conceptual plan drawn up by Dan Snead, an architect, several years ago."

Funding was not available for the vet center, however, so Snead's sketches were put aside — but not forgotten. 

"Rachel Cornett reached out to me (in March) and wanted to give a sizable donation to do something in memory of Delaney," Berry said.

"After we talked about it, she felt the clinic would be perfect, since Delaney was a medical person," said Berry.

Delaney had passed her board exams days prior to her death.

Delaney's relationship to the local animal shelter had started when she was a child.

When Delaney and her sister, Makayla, were younger, their parents — Paul and Paula Wykle of Beckley — wanted to teach them that it is important to give, Paula Wykle said.

"Their dad and I always encouraged our girls to become philanthropists," she explained. "So when they started receiving larger amounts of money for birthdays and Christmas, their dad told them one Christmas they had to find some place they'd be willing to donate a percentage of their money or, at least, go buy something and donate."

The Wykle sisters could choose any local charitable organization. Independently of each other, both Delaney and Makayla, who is now an occupational therapist who works with children, decided to support the Humane Society of Raleigh County.

"It was immediate," recalled Wykle. "Delaney knew which organization she wanted to help.

"Delaney would go buy bags of dog food, or toys, or whatever was necessary or needed, and she would drop them off there. 

"That was her way of doing a couple things: showing she had a project she cared deeply for and also teaching her that to give to others is just as important as to receive."

Wykle believes that her daughter's desire to support helpless animals came from the same part of her heart that would influence her, as a young woman, to choose nursing as her career.

"She was kindhearted and caring," Wykle said. "She loved helping others, whether they were pets or they were people."

When Delaney was in eighth grade at Park Middle School, she met another animal lover: Tristan Cornett, son of Rachel and Todd Cornett. 

Rachel Cornett said she and her husband met the Wykle family when Tristan and Delaney started to date as middle school students. The two young people seemed to bond immediately. Throughout high school, they would be "off and on but mostly on," explained Cornett.

"Our family 'grew up' with Delaney going on vacations, and me picking her up from school," said Cornett. "Delaney was a huge, huge part of our family.

"It was like we already had just another kid. Paula got a son, and I got a daughter."

Delaney and Tristan shared a love of animals that continued when they both attended WVU.

"They always took extra food and things like that to the Humane Society, and Tristan volunteered at the veterinary clinic in Morgantown his senior year," said Cornett.

"They were just animal lovers."

By the time they had both graduated from WVU in 2019 — Delaney with her nursing degree and Tristan with a degree in biology — the two were making grown-up plans for their shared future.

They were "parents" of a Golden doodle and a silver Labrador — Maya and Kip.

The couple had just moved into an older house the Cornett family owned at Flat Top Lake. The two young people had plans to enjoy a year of living near the water before they moved to another state.

The lives of the Wykle and Cornett families changed forever when Delaney died while on what had been planned as a short trip with her lifelong friend, Kameron Cline, at the Cline family's private island. She had been planning to return home to build a life with Tristan, to work at Raleigh General Hospital and to be a bridesmaid in her sister Makayla's upcoming wedding.

The deadly crash received international media coverage, but there were less publicized details that showed Delaney's care for others: She had spent her last evening providing care to Kameron, and to Kameron's sorority sister, who had become unexpectedly ill on Cline's island; Delaney had traded places with a medical worker who was supposed to go on the flight, so that the worker could clean vomit from her shirt.

And Delaney, the animal lover, had a dog near her on the tragic flight. A witness said Cline had boarded with a puppy.

•••

For Cornett, the vet center is a way of honoring Delaney by giving in a way that would be meaningful to her.

"My husband and I, and our son, wanted to do something that would be lasting," she explained. "What else can you do with grief?

"If you don't turn it into something positive, you get buried in it.

"Even right now, I could just cry, thinking about her. But as painful as that is, I know that she would be happy that we were doing this."

For Wykle, who, with her husband, Paul, had established the Delaney Wykle Memorial Scholarship Fund for nursing students through Beckley Area Foundation (BAF), the vet center project is exciting but "bittersweet."

"The Cornetts have been so generous in coming up with the idea of wanting to recognize Delaney's love for animals," said Wykle. "It was not difficult to get on board, because she did love animals, and if there was one that was in dire need of help or assistance, she felt the urge to help them.

"She would've loved that there is a place that could take care of animals.

"Anything about the Humane Society, she was 'all in' for, and so are the Cornetts."

Delaney's desire to help animals will continue for generations, as the vet center provides acute medical care and spay services to needy dogs and cats.

"We hope the community will join with us and the Cornetts to establish this wellness center, to give care to pets," said Wykle. 

She pointed out that the vet center is to be built across from the Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex, which the Cline family donated to Beckley.

Berry said that a number of people have already started to send in donations to build the free-standing, 3,000-square-foot vet center. So far, HSRC has raised more than $200,000 for the construction.

"At least half of our money has come from just individuals," Berry explained. "I hope we can get a lot more people involved."

Berry is joining the Cornett and Wykle families in asking local businesses to support the new vet center. The center will hire a vet and will benefit HSRC by saving thousands of dollars annually on veterinarian bills.

The sketch by architect J. Dan Snead and Associates shows a one-story building with a surgery center, X-ray and recovery room, a waiting and reception area, a room just for cats, a K-9 kennel and dog walk area and laundry and isolation rooms.

Groundbreaking is expected to start in March or April 2022, said Berry.

"We're really excited about it," Berry said. "We have high hopes."

Wykle and Cornett are brainstorming fundraising ideas with HSRC staff. One idea is to place memorial bricks at the wellness center with the names of pets who have crossed the rainbow bridge.

HSRC is a 501(c)(3) organization.

Berry added that all donations are tax-deductible to "the fullest extent of the law."

Donations may be made by writing "Delaney Wykle Animal Wellness Center" on the check memo line and may be mailed or brought to 325 Grey Flats Road, Beckley, WV 25801.

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