New generation will learn about Kelly Williams
A 23-year-old memorial to a girl whose example continues to teach was recently torn down at Gardnerville Elementary School, but her family and school officials say they will use this opportunity to introduce her to a whole new generation of GES students.
Kelly Williams was 11 when she died in October 1977 of biliary atresia, a congenital liver disease. Her life was a miracle and a lesson to everyone, according to her mother, Judy Williams.
Williams explained that the disease meant the canals in Kelly’s liver were too thin for fluids to pass through. Doctors told her and her husband, Gary Williams, their daughter would not live past 18 months. Despite their prognosis, the lack of a liver transplant, and the lack of any known treatment, Kelly lived for 11 years.
“We hoped for a liver transplant, but the family whose child’s liver was supposed to be transplanted from changed their mind at the last moment. They even did operations to see if the gall bladder or other organs were doing the job for the liver, but they couldn’t find anything. They don’t know why she lived so long,” Williams said.
Because of the disease, Kelly was severely jaundiced, causing her skin and eyes to be pale green or yellow, and her stomach was swollen. She was beloved by her classmates and everyone who took the time to know her, said her sister, Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School teacher Miki Trujillo. The Williams’ youngest daughter, Jaime Young, lives in Nevada City.
“People who didn’t know her would stare. This is before the days when it is OK to talk about things like that, but Kelly would rather they asked and she would just come out and tell them. People who bothered to know her remember her openness and her laugh. Those few who teased her missed the gift of her life,” Trujillo said.
GES Principal Cissy Tucker said Kelly and the memorial are still a very important part of the campus. Part of the memorial had to be taken down when the wood began to rot and created a safety hazard. She said the area will be recreated outside of the library after the new wing is built.
“Her memory is important and this is a place where traditions are treasured. She is still a very important part of GES,” Tucker said.
Trujillo, who was 18 months younger than her sister, said she will be speaking to GES students about Kelly soon, seizing this opportunity to talk about the person the memorial was erected to remember.
“The kids are all wondering where the totems went. In society, kids feel so outcast, it is a great time to bring who Kelly Williams was and focus on helping kids see inside of each other instead of looking at the outside,” she said.
Trujillo said she was recently approached in a 7-Eleven by a man who said Kelly changed the way he looked at other people and he still thinks about her every day.
The teachers at GES are hoping that Kelly can have the same affect on today’s students and are using the opportunity to teach acceptance.
“(Taking down the memorial) brought to light exactly what it was for. She was a special little girl and we need to remember that. I have told my kids all about Kelly,” said 5th grade teacher Linda Nalder. “Something very good has to come out of it. We are trying to stress the positive part.”
Tucker said students’ ideas will also be used in the new memorial. Kelly’s mom said she hopes the area will be a small park where teachers can continue to take students for lessons on accepting physical differences. GES teachers Dee Gosselin and Robbi Jacobsen are chairing the committee to plan for the new memorial.
“I think the teachers wanted the totems put back up. We’d like to see something that is a central place, a peaceful place, like a quiet park – a safe place,” Williams said. “We were so overwhelmed and grateful when the first memorial was built in 1978. We’d like to honor the people who worked so hard and replace the thing they had built.”