Savannah Smiles

Story by Jeannie Stone

If you noticed an awful lot of happy people wearing tie-dye shirts and smiling in Russellville the second week of April, it’s likely they were participating in “Sunshine Week,” held throughout the Russellville School District and sponsored by the Peace Club (People Encouraging Active Change and Exchange.)

The all-out effort to impart the community with good cheer stemmed from the students’ desire to celebrate the life of Savannah Kaitlyn Hintze, a Russellville High School honor student who passed following a tragic car accident days before her scheduled 2011 graduation.

By all accounts, Savannah was a blessing to everyone she met.

Messages penned by students cited the myriad ways Savannah impacted their lives. She made one girl feel pretty. She encouraged several to have courage to reach for their dreams. She impressed others by her hard work and gentle ways. All the students who recorded their feelings mentioned her warm smile.

One of her teachers, Amber Casey, described her former student. “A lot of times kids don’t think they can make a difference, but Savannah made a huge difference just by smiling,” she said. “She had a quiet way of lending her support and encouragement to everyone. When students would stand in front of the class to deliver a presentation, she would just smile at them and make them feel at ease.”

Casey continued, “I never realized what a difference she made until we didn’t have her anymore, and we miss that smile.”

Fellow teacher Paul Gray agreed. “Savannah had just returned from a spring break trip to Europe that I led,” he said. “The smile, the positive attitude, her inclusivity — she didn’t care where you were from, what color you were or what your political views were. She was so accepting.”

“She accepted everyone 100 percent across the board, no matter what,” Casey said.

“Savannah struggled to save enough money for the trip to Europe,” Gray continued. “Her grandmother helped her, and my wife and I bought her some luggage. She absolutely loved the trip. When we got home, she brought the luggage back to school to return it to me. She couldn’t understand how someone would give her a gift, but it was Savannah who gave us the gift of herself.”

Her mother Ingrid remembers a suggestion for Savannah to use money saved for her college education for her trip, but her daughter decided against it. “She was a wise soul,” Ingrid said, “and education was so important to her, that she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her dream of going to college.”

In light of her newfound love of travel, Ingrid came upon an idea that resonated with others who loved Savannah.

“It became important to me that her DNA was spread everywhere,” she said. “It started with a goal of leaving a strand of her hair in all 50 states, but people heard about it and offered to help me. What started out as a lifetime project ended up taking not even a year.”

Savannah’s hair is in every state and on every continent, in the Sea of Galilee, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea, Poland, Norway, Germany, Italy, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Antarctica, a mosque in Iran and soon to be in China and Africa.

“One of her teachers is taking a two year sailing trip around the world, and he will leave some of her hair everywhere,” Ingrid said. “Even my father-in-law and his scuba diving friends held a ceremony on the ocean floor in Honduras. They put her hair in a box handmade by the locals, and they buried it in a coral garden.”

Everyone who has participated in Savannah’s hair project has a special story, said Ingrid.

“It’s exciting how people have wanted to become a part of it. Several people travel quite a bit and they keep getting locks of hair to take with them. When I started this, I just wanted to feel she was everywhere in this world and not just in heaven.”

Rainbows were special to Savannah, and in many of the pictures of her, there is a rainbow in the background, on her shirt or painted on her face.

“Rainbows have appeared in a lot of places where people have taken her hair,” Ingrid said. “In the Dominican Republic, a double rainbow appeared when a friend buried her hair, and when Ms. Casey dropped hair into the Caribbean Sea, the sun hit the waves and created a prism.”

The night of her death, it was so black everywhere,” Ingrid said, “but right afterward, everything was golden, and there was a double rainbow in the sky.”

Savannah knew how precious life was. She had suffered plenty of tragedy in her young life. Maybe that’s why she lived each day to the fullest, said Ingrid.

“She’d lost her father when she was only three years old,” Ingrid continued, “and there were several times we almost lost her. She was a twin, but I lost the her sibling during my third month and almost lost Savannah during the fifth month. Later, she survived two bad car accidents, one when she was an infant and the other on a family trip, but God didn’t take her. This time it was her time.”

Savannah was the youngest of four until her baby brother, Logan, was born six years before the crash. He shared those last minutes with her.

“Logan and I remember Savannah every day,” Ingrid said, “mostly, when we are acting goofy or dancing silly. She was such a sweet spirit and had an aura that just glowed around her. We know she is still with us.”

“It still amazes me at how many lives she touched in her short life,” Ingrid said. “I wonder if I lived 200 years, if I’d touch that many lives.”

Even in her absence, she has touched others. “When my friend heard about Savannah, he was so angry that he turned his back on God,” Ingrid said. “I shared a scripture that the coroner shared with me, and after that, he said he felt Savannah’s presence and re- committed himself to God.”

Isaiah 57:1 The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.

In an address she made to her daughter’s graduating class, Ingrid shared how her heart was broken when she lost her daughter and thanked the students for keeping Savannah’s memory alive.

“The fundraisers, the tie-dyed shirts, the bracelets, the moments of silence before special events… the lovely words, pictures and songs on Facebook — each thing, big and small, that you have done has truly filled my heart with love again.”

In closing, Ingrid blessed the students. “My wish and hope for each of you is for you to always show love, to be kind, to forgive, to laugh and smile each day, and to live life to the fullest. I hope that you continue that legacy of love that Savannah has left,” she said. “I know you will.”

 

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