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Fund-raiser becomes a tribute to teacher

November 20, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - The news trickled through Smithsburg High School on Thursday, and by the end of the day, 17-year-old senior Melinda Swain said she knew that her former math teacher, Amy Everett, 37, had died.

"It was sad," Swain said Friday night. "She was a really good teacher."

Swain was just one of the hundreds of people who came to the Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co. Activity Center Friday as an unplanned tribute to the well-loved educator who died Thursday.

The spaghetti dinner fund-raiser had been organized by her friends at the school over the past few months as a way to assist Everett's mounting medical bills. Everett had battled cancer for more than a year.

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Everett had planned to be there Friday as a show of thanks, friends said.

Deidra Herbert, 41, an English teacher at the school, said she and others had watched the stress on Everett and her family build, and "we wanted to do something."

Robin Daughtridge, who works in the school's front office, began working around September to put the dinner together, Herbert said. Then, another teacher's husband who used to own a restaurant agreed to cook the food. A teacher who was in a band agreed to provide his band for the dinner.

Over the months, student groups, community groups, local businesses and individuals began organizing gift baskets and other items to raffle off at Friday's event. The gifts - nearly 30 - were on display in the hall Friday.

The event started at 5 p.m., and things looked like they might start out slowly, said Stephanie Reed, a 15-year-old sophomore at Smithsburg. Reed had volunteered to serve food.

Soon, however, the meeting hall was packed, and new faces were strolling in throughout the night. Spaghetti, salad, sodas and dessert were bused to the tables.

"I think it's really good that this many people showed up ... It shows a lot of people must care," Reed said. "There's been a lot of other people crying. ... People are definitely upset."

Many were happy to talk about Everett, too.

Sara Rowe, 17, now is a senior, but two years ago, Everett was her Algebra II teacher. At one point, Rowe said she ran into difficulty with the subject, and Everett was there to help.

"She just spent a lot of time explaining it, making sure I understood it before she left. ... There was a way she did it," Rowe said.

In addition to students and fellow teachers, family, college friends, neighbors and church acquaintances came to the dinner.

"She was just like a sister to me. She was so down to earth," said Kelli Hess, 37, who went to school with Everett at Hagerstown Junior College and Frostburg State University.

"She's never been one to shy away from someone who needed help .... She was given the gift to teach, and I think she used that to the best of her abilities," said Everett's cousin, Rodney Burgan, 34.

Not long into the night, the collection box was filling up with $10, $20 and $100 bills and personal checks for more, said Theresa Bachtell, the school athletic director who was handling admission duties on Friday.

At the rate people were showing up, Bachtell said she believed the event would bring in more than $10,000, which would be given to Everett's family. Everett lived with her husband and two children.

Sitting next to Bachtell, Spanish teacher Jamil Paci had also been watching the donations flow.

"People have been very generous," Paci said.

Swain, one of the students who'd had Everett as a teacher, said her teacher's death and the event would leave a lasting impression.

"I'll try to understand my teachers a lot better and try to see where they're coming from, and not take them for granted," Swain said.

Funeral services will be held today at 2:30 p.m. at Christ's Reformed Church, 130 W. Franklin St., Hagerstown.

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