Community mourns death of Junaluska teacher
The community is grieving this week after the loss of another beloved local educator. Nichole Reeves, a second-grade teacher at Junaluska Elementary School, passed away suddenly last week while nearing the end of her pregnancy, sending shockwaves across the county.
Her husband, Bryan Reeves, is a detective at the Waynesville Police Department. The two dated for five years before marrying six years ago and were thrilled about the birth of their first child.
She was admitted to the hospital last week after complaining of a headache. Complications arose after she was treated for blood clots and baby Arden Grace was delivered before Reeves passed away Tuesday, Jan. 28.
Her father, Doyle Mathis, said Nichole had always wanted to be a teacher and had a special place in her heart for children and helping people.
"Even when she was a senior in high school, she worked with the kids in special education," he said.
It is clear Nichole was the type of teacher who made a lasting impression on her students during her past seven years at Junaluska.
Erin Shaw, whose daughter Savanna was in Reeves' class this year, said the news was devastating for the 7-year-old.
"She (Nichole) was very open with the kids and really involved them in her pregnancy. The kids were so excited about the baby and I think that's why my daughter was so concerned about the baby when she heard the news," Shaw said.
Nichole helped her students with more than just learning skills in the classroom.
"She was definitely Savanna's favorite teacher and the way I've seen my daughter mature this year, I really contribute that to Nichole," Shaw said.
Some students, including Shaw's daughter, attended Nichole's service on Sunday.
"She and two of her little classmates were crying and hugging each other afterwards," Shaw said. "She was just such a wonderful teacher and this was such a loss."
There were extra counselors on hand at Junaluska Elementary Monday as students dealt with the loss head-on for the first time at school following several snow days last week.
"The school has been really wonderful how they are handling everything," she said adding that Junaluska Principal Sherri Arrington personally called the parents of the children who were in Reeves' class to tell them the news.
On Monday, Arrington said plenty of grief counselors were on hand to help children through their first day back to school without their teacher.
"We are in the process of trying to heal," she said.
Aside from her loving and bubbly personality, there was one thing that stood out to everyone about Nichole.
"If you knew her, you knew that smile," said Rev. Harry Worley of Emmanuel Baptist Church who spoke during a celebration of her life Sunday at Haywood Community College.
Many of those in the audience nodded and smiled in agreement through their tears.
"You never went anywhere that she didn't have that smile. Most everybody that knew her remembered that," her father said.
Even in death, Nichole's compassionate nature shone through.
"Most people might not know this, but Nichole was an organ donor. Her heart and one of her lungs have already been donated — one to a 22-year-old and one to a 24-year-old.
"That was just her. She cared so much and it was just one of those things she wanted to do to give back. She was one special person, there's no question in the world," he said.
Nichole's father-in-law, Jerry Presnell, said the family is still in shock after Nichole's sudden death, but they are caring for the baby around the clock.
"You don't know what the Lord's plan is and I've just got to have faith that He's got a plan here," Presnell said. "She will be sorely, sorely missed."
Arden Grace is being cared for in the NICU at Mission Hospital, however she is expected to be able to come home soon, he said.
Mathis said his granddaughter reminds him greatly of Nichole.
"When you look at her she's got a lot of the same features, her hands and those narrow feet. I think she's going to be a whole lot like her mother," he said.
During this difficult time, he said it's most important for the family to come together to help Bryan care for their precious new addition.
"This was so unexpected, but now we've got to change our lives to take care of this little youngun. I think Nichole would have wanted us to," Mathis said.
The family has been overwhelmed by the love and support of everyone whose lives were touched by Nichole in some way. Mathis said his home has been flooded with phone calls and cards.
"Words can't express how much community support we've had from every aspect from the teachers to law enforcement to the private sector. We really appreciate it," said Nichole's father-in-law Jerry Presnell.
Police officers with the Waynesville Police Department and other law enforcement agencies from across the county have also surrounded the family with love and support, even setting up a bank account for them.
"They are a part of the Waynesville Police Department family and we are all devastated by the loss of Nichole," said Police Chief Bill Hollingsed. "We will stand behind Bryan and support him in the coming days, weeks and months. We know he will need a lot of support and we will be there for him."
Part of that support will mean being there for Arden Grace as she grows up.
"She's got 40 Waynesville officers looking out for her," he said.
How to help
There are at least two efforts in the community collecting donations and funds for Arden Grace. Shaw has helped organize a collection for items to help relieve the family's burden at the request of her daughter.
"This came about as a way to help the family and help my daughter cope with it," Shaw said.
Hazelwood Soap Company is one of the drop-off locations collecting diapers size 2 and up, baby wipes and gift cards to local restaurants and stores. The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Shaw said the effort will be ongoing as long as the family can use the help.
Those who wish to donate money directly into an account for the family may go to WNC Community Credit Union in Waynesville.