Story by Jeannie Stone
If you noticed an awful lot of happy people wearing tie-dye shirts and smiling in Russellville the second week of April, it’s likely they were participating in “Sunshine Week,” held throughout the Russellville School District and sponsored by the Peace Club (People Encouraging Active Change and Exchange.)
Messages penned by students cited the myriad ways Savannah impacted their lives. She made one girl feel pretty. She encouraged several to have courage to reach for their dreams. She impressed others by her hard work and gentle ways. All the students who recorded their feelings mentioned her warm smile.
Fellow teacher Paul Gray agreed. “Savannah had just returned from a spring break trip to Europe that I led,” he said. “The smile, the positive attitude, her inclusivity — she didn’t care where you were from, what color you were or what your political views were. She was so accepting.”
“She accepted everyone 100 percent across the board, no matter what,” Casey said.
“Savannah struggled to save enough money for the trip to Europe,” Gray continued. “Her grandmother helped her, and my wife and I bought her some luggage. She absolutely loved the trip. When we got home, she brought the luggage back to school to return it to me. She couldn’t understand how someone would give her a gift, but it was Savannah who gave us the gift of herself.”
In light of her newfound love of travel, Ingrid came upon an idea that resonated with others who loved Savannah.
“It became important to me that her DNA was spread everywhere,” she said. “It started with a goal of leaving a strand of her hair in all 50 states, but people heard about it and offered to help me. What started out as a lifetime project ended up taking not even a year.”
Savannah’s hair is in every state and on every continent, in the Sea of Galilee, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea, Poland, Norway, Germany, Italy, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Antarctica, a mosque in Iran and soon to be in China and Africa.
“One of her teachers is taking a two year sailing trip around the world, and he will leave some of her hair everywhere,” Ingrid said. “Even my father-in-law and his scuba diving friends held a ceremony on the ocean floor in Honduras. They put her hair in a box handmade by the locals, and they buried it in a coral garden.”
“It’s exciting how people have wanted to become a part of it. Several people travel quite a bit and they keep getting locks of hair to take with them. When I started this, I just wanted to feel she was everywhere in this world and not just in heaven.”
Rainbows were special to Savannah, and in many of the pictures of her, there is a rainbow in the background, on her shirt or painted on her face.
“Rainbows have appeared in a lot of places where people have taken her hair,” Ingrid said. “In the Dominican Republic, a double rainbow appeared when a friend buried her hair, and when Ms. Casey dropped hair into the Caribbean Sea, the sun hit the waves and created a prism.”
Savannah knew how precious life was. She had suffered plenty of tragedy in her young life. Maybe that’s why she lived each day to the fullest, said Ingrid.
“She’d lost her father when she was only three years old,” Ingrid continued, “and there were several times we almost lost her. She was a twin, but I lost the her sibling during my third month and almost lost Savannah during the fifth month. Later, she survived two bad car accidents, one when she was an infant and the other on a family trip, but God didn’t take her. This time it was her time.”
“Logan and I remember Savannah every day,” Ingrid said, “mostly, when we are acting goofy or dancing silly. She was such a sweet spirit and had an aura that just glowed around her. We know she is still with us.”
“It still amazes me at how many lives she touched in her short life,” Ingrid said. “I wonder if I lived 200 years, if I’d touch that many lives.”
Isaiah 57:1 The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.
In an address she made to her daughter’s graduating class, Ingrid shared how her heart was broken when she lost her daughter and thanked the students for keeping Savannah’s memory alive.
“The fundraisers, the tie-dyed shirts, the bracelets, the moments of silence before special events… the lovely words, pictures and songs on Facebook — each thing, big and small, that you have done has truly filled my heart with love again.”
In closing, Ingrid blessed the students. “My wish and hope for each of you is for you to always show love, to be kind, to forgive, to laugh and smile each day, and to live life to the fullest. I hope that you continue that legacy of love that Savannah has left,” she said. “I know you will.”