GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — “I need a bunch of apples.”
These were the words Derek Henry of Gallipolis, Ohio told his parents last year around Halloween. Teenagers ask for a lot of things, but apples and a bunch of them?
Derek’s mom, Janice Henry, said she was stumped by his request and asked him to explain.
“I want to hand out apples at Mrs. Sickels’ house,” Derek had responded.
Mrs. (Ann) Sickels, was one of Derek’s favorite teachers, first at Grace UM Church for Sunday School and then at Washington Elementary. She had fought the fight against cancer and passed away in 2015. Sickels was known for passing out apples at Halloween to trick-or-treaters outside her home on Third Avenue. It was said she did this to try and “teach” healthy eating habits.
Janice said at first she was skeptical and told Derek he couldn’t do it out of respect for possibly upsetting Sickels’ family. But, like most teenagers, Derek had thought ahead and had already cleared his idea with Sickels’ daughter.
“I want to carry on the tradition of a sweet lady,” Derek had said in a Facebook message to Sickels’ daughter when asking for permission.
So, last Halloween, Derek went to Richard Brothers Orchard in Jackson (the same place Sickels bought her apples) and picked up 400 of them to pass out to trick-or-treaters. This year, 16-year old Derek, once again cleared his mission with Sickels’ daughter, made a visit to Jackson and sat up shop outside his late teacher’s home, this time he gave away 460 apples.
Sickels was Derek’s fifth grade teacher at Washington Elementary and she obviously made an impact on him.
“I just have a special connection with her, I think,” he said. “She got me into reading…she liked reading because she was an English teacher. We got along that way.”
Janice said Sickels taught Derek even more than that, by showing up each day and doing her job, despite being sick.
“He watched her go through all of her treatments, she’d come to school and have gloves on,” she said. “He watched her as a teacher and as a fighter, and learned going on no matter what.”
Derek now attends Gallia Academy, though he has never forgotten his days in Mrs. Sickels’ classroom and her impression on his life.
When asked to explain why he wanted to carry on his former teacher’s Halloween tradition, he said: “Because I knew everyone knew about her, and that she did that (gave away apples) and how everyone really liked it. People would hate to not see that anymore.”
Janice said this past Thursday, which was trick-or-treat night in Gallipolis, saw many new faces at the “apple cart” but familiar ones too, including Sickels’ colleagues, friends and former students who recognized that familiar, healthy treat on Halloween. Though the face who was giving away those apples was different, there was something familiar about the gesture. How could it not be? It was taught to Derek by Mrs. Sickels herself, through her example.
“She meant something to him and he wanted to make sure he gave back,” Janice explained why she thought her son decided to carry on this tradition.
“Many people remembered her,” Derek said about comments he received while passing out those 460 apples.
And, in the act of remembering someone else, they are never truly gone.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.