Greensburg Daily News
Keshia Boyce and Becca Wessel never knew each other, but Tuesday morning, outside the main entrance of North Decatur High School (NDHS), the two girls were forever joined in the hearts and memories of those who knew and loved them.
A chilly Autumn mist lingered beneath a gray October sky as NDHS students, staff, faculty, administrators and parents gathered for the formal dedication of twin trees planted in memory of the girls, both of whom died far too young, both in car accidents.
Anita Wessel, Becca’s mother, stood before the gathering and spoke about the ways in which people in life are akin to trees.
Some people, she contended, are like leaves, because they are “there to take what they need and as soon as it gets cold or a wind blows in your life, they are gone.”
Wessel compared other people to branches. Those people, she said, are stronger than leaves, but are still apt to break away during a storm.
“You have to test them out before you run out there and put all your weight on them.”
Root people, Wessel concluded, are the most special type of people in life.
“They’re hard to find,” she said, “because they are not trying to be seen. Their only job is to hold you up and help you live a strong and healthy life. If you thrive, they are happy. If you go through an awful storm, they will hold you up.”
Wessel challenged her audience to be more appreciative of the people who serve as “roots” in life and for each person to seriously consider what role they play in the lives of others: Leaf, branch or root?
Afterward, NDHS seniors from the class of 2013 — Becca’s graduating class — formed lines behind each tree, each scooping a shovelful of dirt before offering a hug and words of condolence and encouragement to Wessel and her surviving daughter, Rachel.
Born March 8, 1988, Keshia Boyce was a 16-year-old NDHS student when, on Dec. 15, 2004, she swerved to avoid an animal in the road and was killed.
Born June 13, 1995, Becca Wessel was a 15-year-old NDHS student when, while riding as a passenger, she was killed in a crash on County Road Northeast 80.
Although the two girls never knew each other, Wessel told the Daily News that she and Boyce’s father, Tony, went to school together.
“After Becca died,” Wessel explained, “Tammy [Boyce] was a great help to me. We got together over the holidays and laughed and cried together. It’s difficult for parents who haven’t lost a child to truly understand what it’s like, but Tammy and I will always share that bond. She’s been a great help to me through the grief.”
Wessel likened the grief from such a loss to alcohol or drug dependence.
“Once you’re an alcoholic,” she said, “you’re always an alcoholic. Even if you go through the program and get sober, the craving, the need never completely goes away; that’s what the grief of losing a child is like. You learn to live with it, but it’ll never truly go away.”
NDHS principal Gary Cook said the school has wanted to do a memorial of some type for Boyce for years.
“This day was long in coming,” he said. “With all the construction we’ve undergone in the last few years, we could never put anything together. We were too unsure where we could build a memorial or plant a tree. Once we got something up, it was conceivable that a change in construction plans could have forced us to tear it down or uproot it. It just wasn’t practical.”
Becca Wessel’s younger sister, Rachel, who was in seventh grade when her sister died, recalled Becca being adamantly in favor of a memorial for Keshia Boyce.
“She’d be shocked to see this day actually happen,” Rachel said. “At one point, Keshia’s family and the school discussed putting in a fountain, but Becca didn’t think it would ever happen; nobody did. After Becca died, I guess it was a lot tougher for the school to say ‘no’ to two families.”
“Becca would be extremely humbled by this,” Anita Wessel added. “To see all these people out here today who care enough to do this in her memory.”
Wessel works as the head cook at NDHS, but said she’s never considered switching schools or changing careers.
“I suppose a lot of people wouldn’t be able to come back here, to walk these halls and interact with the teachers and students that Becca interacted with daily. But it’s the opposite for me. These kids have been a lifeline. Being here in this building, with these people, has helped me feel connected to my daughter. That’s what Charger family is all about. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. ”