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Summit High School honors students’ memories

FARMERS KORNER – Summit High School seniors Heather Kanski, Jenn Davenport and Rachel Maike will be graduating Saturday, May 31, but they won’t be moving on without remembering their classmates, Wesley Hernandez and Lilli Pierce.

Wesley and Lilli would have walked across the stage with the class of 2003 had it not been for tragic accidents. Wesley died in a car accident in July 2000, and Lilli died after a car hit her as she crossed a busy intersection in November 1999. Their friends and family will honor their memories with special flower arrangements at Summit High School’s graduation this year.

“I really wish they were walking with us and that they could fulfill their dreams,” Maike said. “We should show them we miss them.”



Wesley was a soccer player, and he enjoyed riding his bicycle and had a special interest in cars. Lilli enjoyed music, riding bikes and writing.

“Our family is really grateful that the people who spent time with Lilli and got to know her found something in her that made them want to do this memorial,” said Dave Pierce, Lilli’s grandfather, who lives in Summit County.



Christmas Ramirez, a good friend of Lilli’s and Wesley’s, is coordinating the flower arrangements. She hopes to create a three-foot heart for Lilli and a cross for Wesley. Summit High School teacher Jody Wilson is making banners with the students’ names to place across the arrangements.

“It makes me respect their life,” Ramirez said. “It has made me really happy that they can look down and appreciate it. Lilli’s parents really appreciate it, too. When I e-mailed to tell them, they said it lifted them from a little depression, because it was around Lilli’s birthday.”

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A sense of purpose

Lilli was the only child of David and Judy Pierce. After she graduated from Summit Middle School in 1999, the family moved to Cape Coral, Fla., where, a few months later, she died.

After her death, Lilli’s parents searched for meaning in their lives.

“When you don’t care about living, things such as making money hold little consequence,” David Pierce said. “After a couple of years of traveling around (in an RV) and crying almost daily and feeling useless, I started to get glimmers of purpose. It occurred to me that before, I was kind of living for my family and for myself. Perhaps an important reason to keep living is because people are also suffering. Maybe my purpose is to help others because suffering is universal. Everyone suffers.”

The Pierces decided to start a nonprofit organization, Friends Along the Road Inc., to support others who are grieving. They believe grieving is a journey of discovery – a journey that shouldn’t be rushed or controlled.

“I believe that people in deep, mind-numbing grief are going to be transformed by it either negatively or positively,” he said. “Every experience we have is integral to our makeup, and I feel it’s a cop out to say we should just move beyond (grief).”

The Pierces hope to open a bereavement center north of Asheville, N.C., and also to raise money to give to families who need time away from work to grieve. The idea that people should heal from and move beyond grief seemed patronizing to the Pierces, so they base their grieving model on existentialism, which stresses personal growth over “getting over” grief.

“I’m not opposed to the healing of grief,” David Pierce said. “It’s just that we don’t stress the idea of healing in our approach – but when it happens, we are overjoyed.”

They plan on raising money for their center through pledge walks. They’ll take their first, approximately 100-mile walk this fall, and they plan a 2,000-mile pledge walk from their home in Florida to Lilli’s grave in Dillon in the winter of 2004.

“In a way, (the memorial at Summit High School) represents a kind of graduation not only for Lilli but also for Judy and me,” he said. “It’s close to the time when we’re about to embark on our pledge walk. Lilli would be going off to college, leaving home anyway, so I think without really saying we are moving along, we are sort of in a way.”

But as Lilli’s and Wesley’s families and friends move along, they’ll remember the two deceased students.

“They’ll always be a part of our class no matter what,” Davenport said.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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