By Roger McKinney
SENECA, Mo. —
Kayleigh Teal will be remembered Saturday by several participants and bystanders in the Joplin Memorial Run.
They can be recognized by their teal-colored shirts reading “Running in Memory of Kayleigh Teal.”
Teal was 16 on May 22, 2011. The Seneca High School student was working as a waitress at the Joplin Pizza Hut at 1901 S. Range Line Road when the tornado devastated the building, killing Teal and four others. Those killed also included manager Christopher Lucas, who had herded those in the restaurant into the walk-in cooler and tried to hold the cooler door shut with a cord or rope.
Teal would have been among those receiving their high school diplomas Saturday at Seneca High School.
Susan Herbert, a teacher at Seneca High School, and some of her students, decided to participate in the 5K in Kayleigh’s memory. She said she realized the run was on graduation day.
Herbert said senior class donations were largely a thing of the past, but she brought her idea of participating in the Joplin Memorial Run in Teal’s memory to members of the senior class. They embraced it.
The class raised the $190 for a memorial banner honoring Teal along the route of the run. There also is a T-shirt, and more than 100 of them have been sold. A Facebook page has been created: Running in Memory of Kayleigh. The designs include butterflies, which were a favorite of hers.
Herbert said the school administration has been supportive.
She said it’s not possible to determine how many students or others have signed up to run in Teal’s memory, but she estimates it is five to 10.
Herbert said she didn’t have Teal in any classes, but the teenager made an impression.
“She was just all smiles, friendly,” Herbert said. “Everybody liked her. She was a little spitfire, but not in an ugly way. The kids loved her.”
Among those who will be participating in the 5K is Tayler Higginbotham, Teal’s stepsister and classmate. She said she thinks participating in the run is a good way to remember Kayleigh. She said she and Teal’s other classmates likely will walk the route because they haven’t trained for the run.
“I think it’s awesome, especially around graduation,” Higginbotham said.
She said the tornado anniversary is difficult and the graduation ceremony will be difficult knowing Teal isn’t there.
“She was a really sweet girl,” Higginbotham said. “She impacted a lot of people. She always had a smile.”
Another run participant is RaeAnn Willey, a friend and classmate of Teal’s.
“She was very bubbly and happy,” Willey said. “She was always laughing.”
Willey said the way her class has supported the run is encouraging.
After participating in the Joplin Memorial Run in the morning, her classmates will participate in the graduation ceremony at night. All who spoke with the Globe said Teal’s presence has been missed the past two years and that will be apparent again Saturday night.
Seneca High School Principal Willie Ng said Kayleigh Teal’s classmates at graduation on Saturday will wear butterfly pendants provided by her father.