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Vanguard classmates to remember Emma on service day

By MIKE ANDERSON Tribune-Herald staff writer

The morning she died, Emma Welter was on her way to do volunteer work, something friends and family say meant a great deal to her.

On Feb. 9, 2000, Emma, a student at Vanguard College Preparatory School, had just gotten her learner's permit and was driving to school with her mother and brother in the passenger seats. She and her brother, Guss, were to participate that morning in the school's annual "Viking Service Day," in which students volunteer their time in service to the Waco community.

They never made it to school. At about 7:30 a.m., the car was struck on the driver's side by a dump truck near China Spring. Although her mother and brother survived their injuries, Emma, 15, died an hour later at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.

Now, a year later, family, friends and school officials hope to keep Emma's memory alive by naming the school's service day in her honor. When students head out into the community Wednesday, they will be participating in "Emma's Day."

The first half of the day students will volunteer their time to groups ranging from Habitat for Humanity, Caritas, the East Waco Senior Center and the Advocacy Center. They will paint a house for the Area Agency on Aging, tutor young children at Provident Heights Elementary and plant trees in an area park. Later in the afternoon, students, friends and family will gather on campus for a memorial service.

Vanguard Head of School Linda Goble said the idea to rename the day was a product of the mourning process students went through in the days following Emma's death.

"It was so hard for them to understand something so bad could happen on a day that was supposed to be so fun," she said. "(The students) pulled together a memorial service two weeks later. A couple of students wrote poems, some spoke about what she meant to them. A student came to me and suggested we name the day after her. Emma had been very involved in service, and our students thought it would be a good way to show our feelings for her."

Van Darden said he approached school officials with the idea of naming the day after his classmate. Darden, 16, said naming the day after Emma is appropriate because she spent so much of her time helping others.

"She was just as kind to everybody, regardless of race, creed, religion, whatever," he said. "She loved all people just as much as that rather large collection of reptiles she kept. That kind of compassion is rare. We are trying to show that kind of love for everyone. That is what these service days are all about. We are just trying to carry on the compassion that she had, in her name."

During the memorial service, students will place a statue of a turtle in the garden they dedicated to Emma last year. Her mother, Jo Welter, said it is a fitting memorial because Emma loved to care for animals, collecting quite a menagerie.

"It's quite a cool turtle," she said. "My daughter was into turtles. She loved animals, but she was allergic to their fur. So she got into reptiles. She raised lizards, turtles, she even had a couple of bearded dragons. The cool thing is, this service day one of the places they are going is Fuzzy Friends. My son is excited because he can go there and help out in her name."

Welter said naming the service day after her daughter takes on a special meaning, because service is an integral part of the Baha'i tradition that is central to her family's life.

"We believe in the next world a person can progress more quickly by the grace of God, the prayers of others and good deeds done in their name," she said. "Things like this service day, and other good things people do while they are on the earth, they are important. But there is a much deeper meaning for us. These good deeds help Emma's progress in heaven. As parents there is nothing more that we could want."

Mike Anderson can be reached at or at 757-5755.

©Copyright 2001, Waco-Tribune Herald

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