Alex Bellflower was, in the words of his classmates and teachers, many things.
He was “joyful,” “compassionate,” “smart,” “funny,” “helpful,” “brave” and “kind.” He was “friendly to everyone,” “a Pokémon fan” and “all about fun.” He was, to sum it all up, “a really cool kid.”
Students and staff at Hailey Elementary gathered Tuesday morning to honor and remember their beloved classmate, who passed away from leukemia in November 2019 at 8 years old. At the center of the ceremony was a colorful bench with Alex’s face on it, known as the “Buddy Bench”: a reminder to current and future Hailey Elementary students and staff of Alex’s caring disposition and positive outlook on life.
The tribute featured two musical performances from Alex’s classmates—“What I Am” by Will.i.am and “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars—as well as remarks from students and staff. Alex’s classmates and former teachers read aloud entries they had written in a book titled “In Honor of Alex, I Will,” in which those who knew Alex described how his actions have inspired them going forward.
“In honor of Alex I’ll remember to smile a little bit broader, laugh a little bit louder and find joy in every day,” staff member Nancy Sutton read. “I know without a doubt my heart is bigger and my life is richer for having loved such a beautiful person.”
Physical education teacher Patti Olsen recalled how, even when he wasn’t feeling well, Alex would always try his best in her class.
“He might say, ‘I’m a little tired,’ or he might say, ‘I need a little break,’” Olsen said. “Never once did he say, ‘I can’t.’”
Alex’s classmates described his kindness toward others and upbeat attitude—traits they said they would try their best to emulate going forward.
“In honor of Alex, I will treat people with kindness even if I feel sad or mad,” said one classmate, introduced as Shailyn.
“I will always remember how nice, caring and positive he was, no matter how sick he was,” another classmate, Cam, said.
The “Buddy Bench,” which will live at Hailey Elementary for years to come, was inspired by an interaction between Alex and paraprofessional Floyd Padilla, who spent each recess with Alex and his friends. One day, Padilla told those gathered, he had started to complain to a colleague about shoulder pain—then stopped himself, thinking of Alex.
“I realized, why am I complaining?” Padilla said. “Here’s this little dude that’s going through who knows what kind of pain, and he always has this awesome, beautiful smile, never complains, just loves being in school and being with his friends. We should all live life not complaining, but enjoying it.”
The idea behind the bench, in the words of school social worker Teri McKenna: “If we had a picture of Alex around the school all the time, maybe we’d stop and think before we had a negative attitude.”
Now fourth graders, Alex’s classmates will be at Hailey Elementary for only one more year, Alex’s former teacher, Kelly Hughston, told the students assembled.
“You’re not always going to have that bench to remind you, but what you do have is each other,” Hughston said. “I hope you continue to encourage one another and remember Alex and know that you can count on each other together through the tough times. Count on each other to stay positive and do the right thing.”