ASHVILLE — When it’s an act of kindness and community, sometimes a bench can be more than a bench.
On Aug. 17, two Teays Valley High School students, Joshua Fyffe Jr. and Vladyslav Gaidai were killed in a traffic crash on U.S. 23 a few miles north of the U.S. 22 intersection when a car traveling the wrong way struck the vehicle driven by Fyffe.
News quickly spread throughout Pickaway County of their deaths, including to students at Circleville High School who sought to do something to honor them and hopefully provide some healing for their friends and family.
Every year members of the National Honor Society at Circleville work on several service projects and during the initial planning meeting students decided they wanted to create a memorial bench for Fyffe and Gaidai.
Peyton Perini, a senior at Circleville and member of the National Honor Society, said the bench was a way to create a personal and memorable way to honor the two students.
“We wanted to do something to help the family or the school and we played off ideas on each other until we came to the bench idea,” Perini stated. “We wanted to have something family and friends could have and use when they go to school that was more individual and personal to them.”
Whitely Calder, also a senior NHS member, said they thought about doing a picture collage but rather wanted something they had a part in, not something they’d send off to a company.
“We felt like having our hands on the bench would be much more special than something some print company would make,” Calder added. “We thought it also showed that we’re here for them more than something not as unique and handmade.”
The bench features a skateboard with Gaidai and Fyffe’s names on it. Skateboarding was something Fyffe enjoyed.
“It’s something about them and not just any dedication,” Perini said. “It’s very unique in its own way.”
The project came together over the course of about six weeks. Many of the students had no industrial arts experience and in order to complete the project, the students sought the help of Charles Hughes, the industrial arts teacher.
“We thought we’d put some boards together and nail them in but Mr. Hughes said that wasn’t how we were going to go about it,” he said. “We gave him the idea and he came up with the design to incorporate something special to the boys.”
Brian Bingham, the NHS advisor, said he was proud of his students and was happy they were able to honor the two boys.
“I think it was neat all around to get to do it and present it at the football game,” Bingham stated. “I am really proud of them. With NHS I try to push it to be service-based and you do things for other people. I have a great group of kids that I’m privileged to be the advisor of, and I couldn’t have been more proud of them for the decisions they made and how it went.”
The bench was presented to Teays Valley at halftime of the Circleville versus Teays Valley varsity football game — something Fyffe’s mother, Stefani Schooley, said was a surprise to her but a welcomed one.
“It was very emotional and I couldn’t believe it,” Schooley told The Circleville Herald. “Teays Valley being a rival team and them doing that, shows how much people care.”
John Keel, Teays Valley High School Principal, said it was extremely humbling to receive the bench.
“It magnifies what community really means,” Keel remarked. “It doesn’t mean just your district and it can be expanding. Obviously for those kids and that school to think enough about what we went through, empathize with us and provide a source of remembrance and pride really meant a lot to us.
“We really appreciate their outreach and the outreach of others at that time,” he added.
Evan Debo, communications director at Circleville, said the goal for Circleville was to not make a big deal about the project.
“This is an effort of intentional love and support by our kids, from our kids,” Debo stated. “We’re not looking for publicity — it comes from a place of wanting to rally around another school going through an unimaginable time and an unimaginable hardship that will be longstanding. To have a piece like this that the kids put together that’s an enduring commemoration to those two kids is very touching to me and our administration here.
“We’re very thankful to the National Honor Society to put this together but to organize it from beginning to end with the Teays Valley family in mind,” Debo continued.
Both Perini and Calder said they were surprised by the reception of Teays Valley and the family in regards to receiving the bench.
“I was speechless by the appreciation and awe the Teays Valley community was in,” Perini commented. “We handed it off — it was handing off something we really worked for and that meant a lot to us.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she added. “You don’t know what kind of place they’ll be in. I’m sure they’re hurting but I wasn’t sure what they’d think. It was cool to see how touched they were about it.”
In addition to Circleville’s bench, several other schools donated to a scholarship fund in Fyffe’s name including Amanda Clearcreek, Logan Elm, Chillicothe High School Touchdown Club, Ashville Elementary, Liberty Union, Teays Valley Choir Boosters and the Fischer Catholic Volleyball Team. In addition to the scholarship fund, there will be a shoe and toy drive in Fyffe’s name at Pickaway Place in South Bloomfield from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 30.
Schooley thanked everyone for their support and for honoring her son and his friend.
“It really means a lot to me,” she said. “Being his mom, it makes me very proud of him. He’s done more with his 17 years than some people do with 67.”
Schooley said she was proud of her son for the impact he had on the community.
“Kids that never got along, you see them talking now,” she continued. “At his celebration you saw the band members and the football players — people that you wouldn’t expect to talk. Everyone came together for these two boys.
“It was a horrific accident but the way the community and different schools have come together, it’s very heartwarming and yet emotional at the same time to know he made such an impact in his 17 years,” she concluded.
Perini said through this process, the impact the boys left on the students is felt and they are much more connected to Teays Valley.
“There is a certain rivalry with all the schools in the county but [the accident] was a big deal and it rippled throughout the entire Circleville community and all the schools. This was a very touching experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my years,” Perini concluded.