By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
---- — A group of people walking their dogs in a suburb of Boston Monday found a weathered and beaten balloon with a message that touched a whole community.
They spotted the white balloon in a school yard there. They picked it up and saw there was a note attached that said, “In memory of Mason Hopkins. You will be missed by Western Primary.”
Three days earlier, the kindergarten, first- and second-graders at Western released 1,500 balloons of all colors to honor their friend Mason who died Oct. 5 after a three-year battle with brain cancer.
Before the release, Mason’s teacher told the students gathered on the playground, “One of Mason’s best gifts was his ability to fill our buckets with just his friendly smile. Because Mason touched our hearts in such a special way, we wanted to share that feeling with others. We hope that anyone who sees these balloons in the air today or finds them when they land will also smile and share their smile with others.”
His teacher’s wish would soon come true.
One lonely, white balloon floated 945 miles before falling to the ground at CD Hunking Middle School in Haverhill, Mass.
Principal Jared Fulgoni said a group of families walking their dogs Monday morning found it in the school yard, which is tucked into the neighborhood.
When he pulled into the parking lot to start the school day, the families raced over to meet him, eager to share what they found.
“These people were incredibly moved by it,” he said.
He was dumbfounded at first. They told him it came all the way from Indiana. But could that be? Boston would make sense, he said. Even Connecticut seemed plausible. But Indiana?
Some staff members searched Mason’s name online and found both his obituary and a Tribune story about the Friday balloon release.
Fulgoni passed the story on to teachers who then shared it with students. Soon all 500 people at the school knew who Mason was. They knew the 7-year-old was a charmer who called all girls “princesses.” They knew he liked soccer and motorcycles.
And they knew he died too soon after losing his fight with brain cancer. That made his story extra special for everyone at Hunking, Fulgoni said.
Several years ago, the night janitor at the school lost his 8-year-old son to brain cancer. And a student at the middle school recently died of cancer.
Students and teachers at the school grieved for a long time after that — just like Mason’s classmates and teachers are grieving now.
“So for us to have had this balloon float down to us was a powerful experience,” Fulgoni said. “It had given its all to make it here. It was weathered and beaten. It was in pretty rough shape.”
The story, Fulgoni said, has given them another reason to smile, just as Mason would have wanted.
Western Primary School Principal Steve Arthur was surprised when staff at the Massachusetts school reached out to him Monday to recount the story of the white balloon.
Teachers in Russiaville will talk to their young children about the balloon’s journey. They’re using it as an educational opportunity and another way to honor Mason.
“He loved coming to school,” Arthur said. “He loved to learn. He would be excited to find out where the balloons ended up. We hope to use this in a positive way.”
The experience could involve the students at Fulgoni’s school. The middle school principal said he wants his students to write letters to the children at Western Primary. He wants the two schools to stay connected now that Mason brought them together.
“Part of Mason made it here to us,” he said. “I want to connect our schools around the life of this young man.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at email@example.com