Lenox shares sorrow, support in wake of former student's death

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LENOX — Students, staff and faculty at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School were in a somber mood on Monday as they mourned the death of Michael Hedges, 19, a highest-honors graduate last June who died Sunday after being struck by an alleged drunk driver near the campus of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Two other Skidmore students were reported to be recovering following the tragedy late Saturday night as they walked home from a Halloween party on a road in the town of Greenfield, adjacent to the college campus.

"The entire community of the Lenox Public Schools is deeply saddened," said Schools Superintendent Timothy Lee. "Michael was known within and beyond the school community as a fine student, a talented athlete and a good friend to many."

The school administration made additional counseling staff available to students and staff, Lee said. The school library was slated to be open between 6 and 7 on Monday evening to students, staff and community members "who wish to connect with others during this difficult time."

As the school day began on Monday morning, the Rev. Christopher J. Waitekus of St. Ann's Catholic Church and the Rev. Michael Tuck of Trinity Episcopal Church greeted students and staff.

"The kids going into school were very respectful," said Waitekus, known as Father CJ, "and they were happy to see two familiar faces from houses of worship."

"When something like this happens, they're bewildered," he added. "A number of parents want to know what to say to their children. My answer is that we can't fathom why tragedies like this happen." His advice: "Go home tonight, take your kids in your arms and hug them tight."

Waitekus, Tuck, Pastor Janet Deranian of United Methodist Church and Interim Pastor Richard Chrisman of Church on the Hill were planning to attend the Monday evening gathering at the high school.

Waitekus described some of the students he encountered at St. Ann's during catechism class on Sunday night as quiet and teary-eyed. "As I always say, a small town is like a big family and we're trying to be there for our parishes."

According to the Skidmore College website, Hedges' fellow first-year students, Oban Galbraith of Shelburne, Vt., and Toby Freeman of New York City, were hospitalized with serious injuries but were expected to make full recoveries.

"Mike Hedges had already made many friends at the college," the statement noted. A campus gathering in his memory was to be held on Monday evening.

"At such a small school, we all feel a sense of solidarity," the Skidmore News campus paper commented. "It's easy to think, 'It could have been me.' But in times of unthinkable tragedy like this, it is that sense of solidarity and community at Skidmore that can be so valuable."

Hedges was known as a star athlete at Lenox Memorial in basketball, soccer and track, having won a number of awards, including Future Coach Scholar.

He was a member of the National Honor Society and won the Spanish Achievement Award, the National Latin Exam Award and the St. Michael's Book Award for academic achievement with a social conscience.

He was a peer mentor for younger students at Lenox Memorial and performed community service in the Native American village of Tetlin in Alaska.

Hedges frequented the Adirondack Mountains, where he enjoyed hiking, skiing and water sports and held several summer jobs.

One of his Skidmore professors, geologist Richard Lindemann, recalled: "Without a doubt, Mike was the most happy and cheerful student I've met in a long time. His presence in class was uplifting."

A classmate, Alexandra McElhoe remembered Hedges as having "a great sense of humor. And he was kind: he always made a special point to say hello."

A friend and classmate, Luke Gersh, said: "We called him Magic Mike. He was just the most selfless person. He made people around him happy. If anybody else was in a bad mood, he'd give them a smile or a joke. But I never saw him in a bad mood; you couldn't make him upset. He was an awesome guy to be around."

"This is a tragic loss for Michael's family and for all of us at Skidmore," college President Philip A. Glotzbach wrote in a statement to the campus community. "To lose such a good young person of such tremendous promise in the prime of his life is devastating. As we grieve, we direct our warmest thoughts to his family and friends, both here on campus and in Lenox."

In a Facebook poast, Michael's grandfather, John MacGillivray, expressed his appreciation for the warm response from the community.

"Michael was an exceptional individual who was just coming in to his own. I have not been able to come to grips with the senselessness of this act," he wrote. "I do want to thank all those that have reached out to us and offered their support and condolences. And I am in awe of the Lenox community and how they have rallied to support one of their own in this tragic time. Please pray for all the families involved in this tragedy."

Michael Hedges is survived by his parents, Scott M. Hedges and Stephanie M. Hedges, his brother Thomas, a student at Lenox Memorial, and his sister Katie, who attends Pittsfield High School.

Information from the Skidmore News was included in this report.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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