Barbie Pope describes Vail Johnson as a merchant ship filled with gifts of love and joy for those around her.
Pope, the librarian at Pilot Point Elementary School, led the dedication Monday of a tree built in memory of Vail, who died suddenly last August at the age of 9. Pope quoted scripture from Proverbs 31:14: “She is like the merchant ships; she brings her food from afar.”
“Her spirit, godliness, love and compassion was shared with everyone she came in contact with,” Pope said. “Just as a merchant traveler brings goods to trade, Vail was a merchant ship as she gave the beauty of God to everyone.”
A pillar in the center of the school’s library was renovated into the shape of a tree, with a brown base and green leaves sprouting from the ceiling on each side. The tree was built in Vail’s memory to be a designated area where kids could relax and plunge into a book.
Susan Chance, Vail’s mother, knew the day wouldn’t be easy, but she didn’t want to be anywhere else. She said Vail loved to read.
“Reading was something we did every night with the girls, ever since they were babies,” Chance said, describing how she read to Vail and her older sister Jade. “It was our favorite time, and it became her favorite time.
“I started doing Bible studies with her, too, and that’s when she started learning and loving the Lord. She always had a sweet spirit, but I think that grew her spirit,” Susan said.
As Vail got older, it became apparent that she was different.
“She had a gift to make everyone she came in contact with feel special,” Susan said.
Vail’s stepfather Chad Chance said Vail had an innate skill of bringing people from different groups together.
“We’ve got a group of horse shoe and blacksmith friends, church friends, horse show friends and school friends because of Vail,” Chad said. “When Vail was alive, she would draw people together. Whenever we went to a horse show, Vail wouldn’t know anyone, so she’d just go out and make friends. To this day, I’m saying hello to people I only know because of Vail.”
Later on in the ceremony, Chad and Susan were led outside to a tree planted by a newly built tan-colored bench in Vail’s honor.
Family friend Jack Harpool read a paragraph from Johnson’s “If I Were a Tree,” followed by a special surprise.
Administrators Krista Burger and Lee Ann Coats opened a box and released a group of butterflies into the air to pay homage to Johnson’s favorite insect.
Chad’s gut told him to stay home, but he was so glad he came.
“I’m grateful that we have such a great community,” Chad said. “I’m glad I didn’t listen to my gut because not coming would’ve been an injustice to Vail. We’re going to continue to press on for her because that’s what she’d want.”