MENTONE — The 2015-2016 school year began on a tragic note for fourth-graders at Mentone Elementary School when they learned their classmate, Destiny Smith, had passed away during summer break.
Students, family members, teachers and school officials gathered on the front lawn of Mentone Elementary School Thursday afternoon, May 12, to remember a classmate who passed away last summer just before school started.
Destiny Smith, Rochester, contracted e-coli and was taken to Riley Children’s Hospital, Indianapolis. There, she passed away due to medical complications. She would have started fourth grade last fall.
Faced with the loss of a classmate, Mentone students wanted to do something in her honor. Hosting a Penny Pitch, the students raised more than $1,500 to create a memorial for Smith. Plans were drawn up and a spot was chosen in front of the school for a bench and arbor, with a commemorative plaque.
Throughout the course of fundraising and planning, teachers and staff wanted to extend the memorial to include four other students who have passed away over the years, including Melissa Wert, Jeffrey Howell, Jacqueline Egolf and Ashleigh Bruner.
Ryan and Addie Costello, Certified Landscape Services, were given the task of creating the final design and donated their time to build it. The arbor and bench were formally dedicated a 2 p.m. Thursday, May 12. Mentone Principal Randy Dahms and Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation Superintendent Brett Boggs gave opening remarks. Teachers Alicia Slone and Cathy Olson shared memories of Smith and Paster Amber Karkosky-Litten, Mentone United Methodist Church, shared words of comfort and encouragement.
Smith’s parents, Paul and Tracey Schaeffner, were present for the dedication.
“It’s nice to know the impact she made,” Tracey said. “It just kind of goes to show the tight-knit community we have here.”
The family of Ashleigh Bruner was also present. With tears in her eyes, Bruner’s mom, Judy Smith, shared what the memorial means to her.
“It’s been almost 20 years, but it’s just truly special,” she said.
Following the ceremony, those gathered released purple balloons — Smith’s favorite color — in their classmate’s memory and shouted messages for her.
“I think one of the things about the Mentone community is that we have a strong community feel,” Mentone Elementary School Principal Randy Dahms said. “People here care about each other and it’s neat that our students wanted to do something for her.”