Family and friends remember Lee’s Summit High School teacher Rachel Stone as someone who always smiled through life’s toughest moments, inspiring everyone around her to be better.
“It was the light in the room,” Stone’s half-brother Jeramy LaFollette told The Star on Friday.
The Lee’s Summit community mourns the loss of Stone, a 20-year veteran of the school district, where she served as a health and physical education teacher, as well as an assistant coach for girls’ volleyball. Stone, 47, died Thursday morning in an accident when a semi-trailer went out of control on an icy US 50 freeway in Jackson County.
“She was a God-fearing woman. And I know in my heart that she’s a sister in Christ now, and I can’t wait to greet her again,” LaFollette said. “I cannot express what anguish it is for my family and myself that she is gone.”
The brothers, LaFollette said, were born and raised in Lee’s Summit. They frequented local hangouts, such as the Summit Lanes bowling alley, where the owners became like their grandparents. The commercial continued to play a large part in Stone’s life. Most recently, he has helped the company advertise on social media.
“Like so many others, we are heartbroken to share that we have lost a beloved and longtime member of our Summit Lanes family,” the company posted on Facebook Thursday.
LaFollette said he and his sister were taught from a young age, “If you walk into a situation and have negative thoughts and a negative mindset, your only perception of the world will be negative.
“Rachel took it to heart. She never scowled or looked angry. She was someone who always had a smile on her face, whatever the day was, whatever she was going through.
That attitude strengthened Stone’s lifelong relationships, her brother said, both in her work as an educator and as a wife and mother to his two children.
Stone taught at Lee’s Summit in 1997 and then began her high school career in 2000, principal Kari Harrison said in a message to the families.
“I’ve had the opportunity to serve on committees with Rachel and have attended district training with Rachel. She was kind, welcoming, energetic, and unapologetic about her enthusiasm for reaching out to students,” said Marjie Bohning, president of Lee’s Summit High School Parent Teacher Student Association.
“He was my daughters health teacher. She had a way of engaging students with her personal stories, which freed them up to share their own. She spoke of making personal decisions wisely, warning that they had to live with the consequences.
LaFollette said Stone was “always that shoulder for students to lean on” and someone who would help them through their problems.
“But when you were top of her class, she always wanted you to do more because she saw that potential. So she always pushed a little bit. She would guide them to do all the work necessary to get the best out of her students,” she said.
Some might assume Stone was a born teacher, but LaFollette said after high school, when she decided she wanted to be an educator, she worked at it every day.
“He was always studying and always going that extra mile to try and get his work done and figure out what he needed to learn about teaching,” she said.
LaFollette said Stone’s husband Scott inspired her to delve into physical education and athletics and helped her learn to be a coach. She helped her coach the volleyball team and the dance team for a while.
Tara Schroeder Yantis, a dance teacher at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, said she still thinks of Stone when she thinks of Lee’s Summit Tigerettes.
“There are countless athletes and students in pain tonight. Because that’s what happens when a person dedicates their life to education and coaching. Generations of young people influenced and made better. Wrapping his arms around each of you, wherever you are,” Yantis said in a Facebook post Thursday. “And Stone’s family. My God. She was so loved. Darling. We are with you in every way possible.”
But one of Stone’s biggest roles, her friends said, was being a mother to her son and daughter.
“She was the rock,” LaFollette said. “Just being able to guide her children through life almost seamlessly was an art form that she had down. But it took her a long time to get there, as with any parent.
“God, family and friends. This is the order she put things in,” she said. “And school was more like a family for her. When she was in school, that was her family. But when she was at home, school never interrupted family time ”.
LaFollette said plans for a memorial service have yet to be finalized.