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OCT 29 - NOV 05, 2015

A Year After Owner's Tragic Death, Whitenight Jewelers Still Thriving

Mike Hudson

OCT 29, 2015

Michael and Kristin Whitenight

It was perhaps the most horrific thing any family can face. The tragic death by suicide of a beloved husband and father.

Depressed and ill, Michael Whitenight -- jeweler, philanthropist and all around good guy – took his life a year ago rather than living to become a burden to his wife of 30 years, Kris, and sons Michael and Max. It was a tragedy almost unimaginable.

“The week Mike died, I took my boys and said to them, ‘Either we open the store tomorrow or we don’t.’” Kris told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “I left them alone to make the decision. The next morning we opened up the store.”

The store, Whitenight’s Fine Jewelers on Buffalo Avenue in LaSalle, has remained open, and thriving, due to the inner strength of a close knit family who wondered at first how they could go on.

“Once we made that decision, it was like, OK, we’ll try it for three months and see. Then it was another three months,” Kris said.

Max, a law student at the University of Buffalo, took a year off to pitch in on the effort. And Michael Jr., much to his mother’s surprise, had learned far more about the family business from years of watching his father than she had suspected.

“He’s doing all the repairs himself,” she said. “We have not had to send a single thing out for repair.”

The business was always successful, and Mike Whitenight left his family well off.

“I thought, either we could keep it going or lay on the couch until the money ran out, which could have been some time,” Kris said. “I’m happy we decided to do what we did.”

A turning point came when son Max came back to his mother after talking it over with his brother.

“I’m not going to let this be the defining moment of my life,” he told her.

Guts and determination, two qualities Mike Whitenight valued as much as anything, brought the family even closer together.

“They were taking care of me and I was taking care of them,” Kris said. “Even if you were having a bad day, you knew they were too so we all tried to lift each other up.”

It worked. A year later, the store is thriving, Max has returned to law school and Mike and his mom are running the store in a way that would have made Whitenight proud.

“I don’t think anybody expected us to keep going,” Kris said. “But this community has really stood behind us. I’m really grateful to the people of Niagara Falls. It’s a wonderful place.”

In addition to working at the store and at a second job she’s had for years, Kris has also become involved with the Wellness program at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

“I originally went there for counseling after Mike died, but once I saw the kind of work they were doing, I called (NFMMC CEO) Joe Ruffolo and asked how I could help.”

A significant portion of the Wellness Center’s work is in the field of mental health, and depression, thoughts of suicide and grief therapy are all dealt with in a comprehensive manner, she said.

“It’s a shame, because so many people don’t even know these programs exist,” she said. “There is a real need her for what’s being offered, and I’m trying to do what I can to get the word out there.”

Mike Whitenight was a great friend of this newspaper. Fifteen years ago he called the Reporter offices after getting a telephone call from the then mayor, Irene Elia, who was mounting a campaign to get local businesses to stop advertising with us and carrying the paper in their stores. Although he’d never advertised with us before, he offered to help.

“I didn’t serve in the United States Army to come home and have some politician try and shut down a newspaper,” he said.

That was the kind of guy he was.

Grieving is a very personal process, as anyone who’s experienced the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one can tell you. Kris Whitenight is handling it better than many.

“I’m OK,” she said. “Mike and I had a great love and were lucky enough to spend 30 years together. I loved him and he loved me.”

And it is that love, she said, that’s given her the strength to go on.






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