Source: Sherman Publications

Friends bid farewell to classmate

by Wendi Reardon

June 06, 2012

The classrooms and hallways were empty last Friday at North Sashabaw Elementary.

Students and staff spent the day saying goodbye to their friend and treasured North Sashabaw family member, fourth grader Ryan Kennedy.

When he passed away on May 26 after a five year battle with Ependymoma, a form of brain cancer, Kennedy left an impression on the school many will never forget.

"The memory I will always have of Ryan is his sense of humor," said Alena Hall, his fourth grade teacher. "He had a dry sense of humor. He got my sarcastic jokes. He always understood them and laughed. I would say ‘you are my favorite because you laugh at all my jokes,’ and he would laugh."

During his battle with cancer, Kennedy had seven surgeries, four rounds of chemotheraphy, and two courses of radiation. But at the end of the day, he was just like any other boy.

He was a huge fan of the Detroit Lions and Michigan State University Spartans, noted Hall. He also enjoyed art, drawing, writing, reading, playing Nintendo DS and being on the computer.

"He really loved reading," said Hall. "He would laugh out loud at something he was reading. He loved the Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. He was a very good student. He was a very cool kid."

Hall said she will remember him every Sunday as the Lions take to the field and every Christmas. He helped decorated the classroom for Christmas this school year.

His Kindergarten teacher, Loretta Gagnon, admired many things about Kennedy, especially his courage.

"He really has helped me face some medical issues with courage," she admitted. "I had skin cancer, and whenever you hear the word, surgery, you tend to get concerned and worried. I would think of him at those times. I would think of his courage in facing his cancer and surgeries. He inspires me when life throws us a curveball."

Gagnon said she will always remember his smile and his dimples as well as his sense of humor.

"He was in my thoughts and prayers a lot in the last five years," she said. "He was a very brave kid. I admired his ability to be fearless in so many ways."

She first met him when his was just a year old and had his sister, McKenzie, in her class.

North Sashabaw Elementary Principal Tara Ouellette met Ryan when she started almost a year ago and fondly remembered him dressing in a shirt and suitcoat for his school photos.

"It was something that was outstanding that I noticed when I looked through old yearbooks," she noted. "He was a great kid. His mom is wonderfully strong, and we found a lot of peace with how she dealt with things."

Gagnon agreed.

"I really admire his mom (Kimberly)," Gagnon added. "She was always looking for new treatments, researching best medical interventions for Ryan, yet balance with wanting his life to be normal. She balanced making sure Ryan had what he had to battle his cancer and also giving Nathan, McKenzie and her husband what they needed as well. She is an incredibly strong woman that has great faith, too."

When Ryan's health made it hard for him to be in school, Ouellette thought of a way he could still be in his school and play with children his age.

She offered him an opportunity to come in after school and play with her children, Ethan and Tyler, fourth and second graders at Pine Knob Elementary.

While he battled his cancer, his North Sashabaw family as well as schools throughout the district bonded together in various fund raisers. During Hall's eight years teaching she has never had a class so close.

"They looked out for each other, not just Ryan," she added. "They made bracelets, signs and pins. They had bake sales and raised over $1,000. They loved doing nice things for Ryan and for each other."

Gagnon said it was amazing to watch the school band together.

"At times like these, you really do see how much good is in the world," she added. "How many care for other people and stand behind a cause. It has been encouraging and uplifting just to come together as a school family for one of our own."