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Treasuring the best friendships

Have you lost touch with a dear friend? Have you been putting off having dinner with your best friend? Now is the perfect opportunity for you to set up plans to have a meal, coffee, or a fun adventure. Even if your friend lives miles away, send them a special card, surprise care package, or Facetime him or her. It’s time to get reconnected!

Laura and Casie

Laura Kirkley and Casie Hanger have been friends for 25 years. They met at a mutual friend’s house one fall when they were teenagers. By the next fall, they were inseparable.

“I don’t know how life works without her by my side,” said Kirkley. “At this point in my life, it’s more than a best friend. It’s a partnership.”

Kirkley said Hanger knows all of the good and bad things about her “and she still has my back.”

“She loves all of me,” said Kirkley. “She’s my person.”

Hanger is grateful for her best friend. “It means I never have to go through things alone, and there’s a trust that only happens over years of ups and downs and proof that someone will stand by our side.”

Kirkley recalled when she and her late husband Tony were playing a game with Hanger and her husband Barry. One teammate had to use words to prompt the other teammate to say the unknown word to the other on the card. Hanger gave Kirkley the clue “breaded” to which Kirkley responded “chicken breast.”

The husbands promptly accused their wives of cheating.

The pair have so many funny stories. They have laughed like crazy over painting floors, watching babies stuff themselves full of beans and at the same time trying to talk, and more.

“Casie’s very quick-witted so you never know when she’s going to come up with something so funny,” said Kirkley.

Recently, while in a hotel room with their two teenage daughters, they lectured the teens about being too loud. Within minutes, Kirkley and Hanger were laughing so hard themselves that they were crying and squealing.

“The teens couldn’t believe we were worse than them,” said Hanger.

The friends have experienced heartache together over the years. They sat together in the cemetery after their friend Brad died. They mourned his loss and talked about his life and the memories they shared.

In March 2007 Kirkley was devastated after her husband Tony died. She and Hanger drove to the Grand Canyon soon after that for what was a sweet, emotional, yet cathartic journey.

The best friends have also had plenty of happy times. Kirkley has loved every minute of watching Hanger grow “into this beautiful, wonderful and smart mother.” She said it has been an amazing experience and Hanger’s children have brought Kirkley such deep joy to her life.

There have been quiet moments, too, between the friends. Moments spent sitting outside in silence watching the sunrise or sunset have been special times together when no words were needed.

Kirkley and Hanger love traveling together.

“I love our little quirky family that we have built together,” said Kirkley.

They have a very intertwined life and she wouldn’t trade it for the world. They have travel experiences alone as best friends and together with the kids and sometimes with husbands or with the entire family.

Hanger married Kirkley’s first husband Tony’s best friend. Then Hanger set Kirkley up on a blind date with Scott, to whom she is now married. Scott and Barry became best friends. Now the four of them are inseparable as well. They share family dinners a few times a week and go places together. Even their dogs Baxter and Maya are best friends.

“I love that our day-to-day is a lot of all of us together doing for one another and being a family,” said Kirkley.

Hanger loves their trips, crafting and watching movies together.

The pair don’t disagree often unless it’s about the issue of tidiness.

Kirkley has a tendency to be tidy, very tidy. Things have a place and she likes things to be kept in their place. Hanger, on the other hand, doesn’t mind as much if things aren’t put back into their places.

“I irritate her because I try to clean up in the middle and minimize the mess and put stuff up as I go,” said Kirkley. “Casie may end up having to get it out again but it is tidy.”

Hanger said Kirkley definitely likes things a certain way. “It’s hard for her to let things go when they’re out of place. I’m more laidback, which probably drives her crazy at times.”

Through all of their good and bad times, the pair have experienced so much together.

“I could not trust another person more with my life,” said Kirkley.

Hanger agreed and said her trip with Kirkley to the Grand Canyon is one of her most cherished memories.

Justin and John

Justin Nettles and John Barnett have been friends since first grade. They even went to an advanced second-grade reading class together as first graders. They’ve done most everything together since elementary school.

They played middle and high school sports together. They have reffed and umpired games together. They’ve even coached the same sports but against each other at different school districts.

They have two huge things in common: St. Louis Cardinals and sports memorabilia. Although they love just about anything sports-related, the St. Louis Cardinals are at the top of their list.

Nettles has season tickets, and the friends can often be found at many Cardinals home games. They also go to autograph shows together as often as possible.

Barnett is the one who inspired Nettles to begin collecting sports memorabilia. He said he especially enjoys spending time with Nettles with “anything dealing with sports, most notably Cardinals baseball and autograph shows, though now I have him converted to a Duke basketball fan also.”

“It’s also John’s fault that I’m addicted to collecting sports memorabilia now,” said Nettles.

When the pair are together, they always have fun.

“Just about anytime we get together, we can cut up and have a good time,” said Nettles.

Barnett remembered when they went to the first game of the 2013 National League Championship Series. They stopped at the White Castle near Busch Stadium for an “awesome deal.” If they spent $15 in the restaurant, they got free parking.

“We couldn’t pass up that deal,” said Barnett.

They ate, walked to the stadium, and arrived at their seats … just in time when the “belly bombers” kicked in.

“The burgers tore me up,” said Barnett. “If anyone has ever been to a post-season game, the atmosphere is awesome and it’s such an amazing time. Well, due to some foul odor coming from my seat, the gentleman next to me just happened to leave in the fifth inning.”

To this day, the pair laugh hysterically when they reminisce about that “beautiful day.”

The best friends have had many great and some not-so-great moments in their lives.

Barnett was diagnosed with a brain tumor in late 2017. He and wife Megan spent several weeks in Houston while he received treatment.

“In the most difficult times in my life he’s always been right beside me,” said Barnett. “When we had our battle with cancer and going through the struggles of being away from home and everyone and the difficulty of the treatments themselves. Justin will never understand how important his small chats about the Cardinals and just random text messages were to me. He lifted me up many times.”

Through it all, Barnett said, the most important thing about a best friend is having someone who is “always in your corner in all facets of life.”

Nettles agreed. “Having someone you can rely on at all times, someone who will lift you up in prayer, and someone who shares similar interests. John is my best friend.”

He concluded, “Sometimes you don’t realize until you get older. God knew I needed a guy who was going to be my right-hand man through everything in my life. We became buddies because we were ‘smart’ kids and now we go through the good and the bad with an unwavering person to battle it all with. As corny as it sounds, I’m very thankful to God for him.”

Laura Kirkley and Casie Hanger have been friends for 25 years. They met as teenagers and are inseparable.

Laura Kirkley and Casie Hanger have been friends for 25 years. They met as teenagers and are inseparable.

Justin Nettles and John Barnett have been friends since first grade. Their friendship was important when Barnett fought cancer.

Justin Nettles and John Barnett have been friends since first grade. Their friendship was important when Barnett fought cancer.

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