A joyful high school band trip to Austria and Italy ended in tragedy for a beloved school secretary and those who knew her best.
During March’s spring break, long-time Coquihalla Elementary secretary, Sandra Loring, accompanied the Hope Secondary band as a chaperone, one of six adults supervising the 28 students, during a European tour. However, Loring experienced an unexpected medical emergency during the flight home and passed away a week later in Chilliwack General Hospital.
“Sandra was excited to be part of the trip,” said Hope Secondary principal, Rosalee Floyd. “What an wonderful opportunity it was, for her to go along as a chaperone and be a part of her grandson’s experience.”
Floyd said she knew that with Loring chaperoning, the students were in good hands.
The group was flying back to Seattle on March 28, to get on a bus and drive home. Shortly before landing, the medical emergency occurred and Floyd said assistance was given by flight staff and paramedics, in an area away from the students.
“I can’t say enough about the amazing job our band instructor, Ahlbert Dayrit did, gathering all the kids and getting them back to Hope, while working with the Loring family and respecting their wishes,” Floyd said.
“Our hearts go out to the family.”
Floyd said that counseling has been made available to affected students, through the school’s two counselors and additional help had been on stand-by.
The loss has left a void for staff and students at Coquihalla, where Loring had served for nearly 30 years. With the expansion of the school in 2014, Karyn Bonikowsky was hired to assist in the extra workload.
“Sandra had such a kind heart and was constantly watching out for the kids and making sure they were fed,” Bonikowski said. “I enjoyed working alongside her, learning, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. She will be deeply missed by everyone.”
Linda Bailey has taught at the school since the early 1990s. She said, “Sandra connected with staff in a deep and meaningful way. She was someone you could confide in. When you share common lived experiences you bond as friends and not merely colleagues. I miss her so very much.”
She added, “Sandra made everyone feel their needs were important and she made herself available to you, even though she was very busy with her own work.
“Sandra was the cornerstone of Coquihalla,” Bailey said. “She was the first ‘good morning’ every day.”
Vice-principal, Peter Flynn, who started teaching at the school in 1992, is trying to come to terms with his colleague’s passing.
“While I’m sitting in my office, without Sandra being in hers, I keep hearing her calling my name. I keep hearing the creak of her office chair as she gets up to tell me something,” Flynn said.
“As I look over my 30-year friendship with Sandra, the phrase, ‘It’s for the kids,’ was always associated with her. She would quietly but heartily approve of anything in the school that would improve the life of the kids entrusted to our care.
“She was a quiet saint — and she would hate the word ‘saint’ being attributed to her — but I was so impressed by how she knew the heart of kids, and always did right for them,” Flynn added.
“She had a special heart for the neediest of children,” he recalled. “She was so happy when needy kids got new boots, or a lunch, or a good winter jacket — or when kids who had formerly been such poor readers became proficient.
“I also saw how mannerly and kind she was with difficult adults who may have come into the school,” Flynn continued. “She would always look them in the eye, talk politely and quietly to them, use their name, and offer to help in anyway she could. She was a champion at de-escalation.
“When I became an administrator, I found that Sandra always had answers to my questions, and usually knew what I was asking before I knew what to ask! Her knowledge of how things were to run in the office was phenomenal,” Flynn recalled.
“A large hole has been left in our community. I didn’t know how large it was until I had to actually stare into it. At this point, anyway, I don’t think we are ever going to get over it. She is missed.”
School principal, Monique Gratrix, had a special connection with Loring, as the two were hands-on in the planning and daily operations of the school.
“Sandra was a close friend and a colleague,” Gratrix said. “She will be missed, more than words can express. As a staff, we will be thinking of her far more than anyone can know. She was an integral part of our school team.”
Gratrix visited each classroom, to speak with the students about Loring’s passing. Parents were also notified and asked to speak with their children.
Staff and students were invited to put their feelings on paper and six-year-old Phoenix Glentworth made a drawing, remembering a time when she had brought an injured friend to the office, to seek medical attention. Mrs. Loring is depicted, dealing with three ailing children. A thought balloon shows her thinking of the healing power of a bandage with hearts on it.
Injured students felt the love, in Mrs. Loring’s caring hands.
While the Loring family has held its own private service, the school has planned a student-led service for next week.
A planning committee, including Loring’s sister, Jackie Miller, has proposed an outdoor memorial table for the school grounds. It would be large enough to seat an entire class. People wishing to make a donation toward the project can inquire at the school’s office.