As Pastor Leroy said at Jerry Vaad’s wake, this was a real celebration of life – a life that touched so many of our students and staff.
For 22 years, Jerry coached, drove bus, listened, told stories and encouraged our young Native American people. So many of them told me of his pep talks, to hang in there when they felt like giving up. Travis, his son, writes and plays some wonderful Christian music and the sound of guitar and fiddle filled the Rec Center, where we gathered for the wake. A slide show put together by Jerry’s family and our staff triggered so many memories of his life. I noticed one of Jerry and I standing on the sidelines next to the yardsticks at a football game, talking about the young people we were seeing in front of us.
Five staff who knew him so well, got up to express their remembrances. All helped out at the Rec Center, and in his honor and memory wore black and white striped referee shirts, and came to the microphone with a toothpick in their mouth, as Jerry always did. They made us laugh, cry and remember.
The musicians played, “Jesus loves me this I know” as the students who wanted to, filed by the casket to pay their respects. Many were moved to tears as they remembered all that “Grandpa Jerry” had done for them. One girl talked about the care he took when taping her tender ankles, and helping get her through some hard times in her life.
Sunday night, the kids had a chance to write a brief farewell message to Jerry on some sticky, peel off labels. As they exited the gym, they were each given a balloon to which they attached their message. Our drum group prayed a honor song, and then all the children released their balloons to the heavens. It was a meaningful and fitting send off.