Kalamazoo Strong: A high school in Battle Creek fulfills victim’s dream

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Mary Jo Nye loved reading. It’s what her colleagues at Calhoun Community High School remember most about her. She taught there for a number of years and dreamed of one day giving students a library, considering the school didn't have one.

“Her idea that the more they read, the more they’d liked reading, the more they’d engage with reading and then they could transition that to their academics,” said english teacher Robert Heuermann. “[But] we always struggled with having things for the kids to read.”

So Nye started to build a makeshift library in her room at the school, Heuermann said. She'd buy books at garage sales and then sometimes at Barnes and Noble. She was putting it together for  several years, even after she retired from teaching. However on February 20, the dream stopped. She was one of six people killed that night during a shooting spree in Kalamazoo county.

“You never want to lose somebody but especially the event that occurred,” said Stacey Olsen, crisis interventionist at the school.  “It was a senseless act of violence and nobody can ever prepare you for that.”

Olsen said her heart went out to the faculty and staff during that time. A few teachers took off from work to mourn, she recalled. But when they returned they knew exactly what to do to keep her memory alive: complete the library.

“The next step after that was like ‘well this is something she put in motion, so we need to make sure that we follow through on that,” said Heuermann who was friend and colleague of Nye’s.

The months following her death, the faculty converted an entire room into a library at the school, complete with tables, lounge chairs and hundreds of books. All of it was donated too. On February 2017, a year after her death, it was dedicated to the school in her name.

"This is what she would’ve wanted a more relaxed you know feeling, someplace the kids could feel at home,” he said. “She always wanted this to feel like a second home to the kids.”

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