By Donna Thornton/News Editor
A candlelight vigil is planned for tonight at the boardwalk in Gadsden, Dr. Marguerite Early said, to remember a Southside teacher who died March 10 in a single vehicle wreck.
Early said the vigil is something that students organized themselves, at the end of what has been very difficult week for the Southside High School family.
Stefanie Kristen Deru, 30, taught Business Education at Southside High School, the school she attended not too many years ago. Early said there were some teachers at SHS who taught Deru in school, and many more who were dear friends.
“She loved Southside High School. She loved teaching. That was her passion,” Early said. “If you could have seen the crowd at the funeral home and at the church for her funeral – it was just a testament to the lives she touched.
“Even though her’s was a short life, what a wonderful life she lived,” Early said.
When the faculty and students returned to school after Deru’s death, counselors from other county schools, local youth ministers and pastors and even personnel from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department were on hand to assist those who grieved.
A pink box was placed in the school’s foyer so that students and colleagues could drop off cards and messages, which were given to Deru’s parents. Paper banners were displayed at school, giving students another opportunity to write tributes or messages, and those were given to the family also.
All after school activities were canceled for a portion of the week, and school’s in Southside and Rainbow City were dismissed early so faculty and students could attend Deru’s funeral service.
In addition to teaching, Deru had her commercial drivers license, Early said, and she often drove a school bus for field trips or sports teams when a driver was needed.
With that in mind, a faculty members suggested the school’s staff ride a school bus to Southside Baptist Church for her funeral Wednesday.
Early said a scholarship fund has been started in Deru’s memory.
“I’ll be meeting with her parents to talk about what the criteria for awarding the scholarship will be,” Early said. She said she did not know what their wishes will be. “I know Stefanie always had a passion for the kids who didn’t have a lot.”
Deru had received her BS degree from Auburn University and her degree in education from Jacksonville State.
She was a member of Southside Baptist Church.
Early said while this has been a difficult week at SHS, she could not be more proud of the students and the love and respect they’ve shown in the face of this tragedy. When students gathered Monday so she could tell them what she knew about what had happened, Early said, they were absolutely quiet and respectful.
“With 830 kids, that’s saying a lot,” she said.
While goodbyes were said this week, it seemed clear the memory of this young teacher will not be gone.
“Everyone would hope that their live would be remembered this way,” Early said, as the source of such a positive impact on the lives of others.
“She has left a great legacy.”