Savannah smiles

Impact of Homecroft student continues after her passing

“I’ll never forget her smile,” said Jody Matthews, the principal of Homecroft Elementary.

The smile he refers to is that of Savannah McHale, a Homecroft Elementary graduate who passed away a little over a month ago due to Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an aggressive cancerous tumor on her brain stem. Although Matthews can no longer physically see her smile, he knows he will always carry the lasting impact of positivity that she made on him and the rest of the Southport community.

This positive, happy side of her, according to Matthews, changed the way he now views his life. He says that it has absolutely changed the way he looks at his relationship with his kids, too. If a young girl like Savannah can have such everlasting strength, then he can, too, and live his life out fully with his family every single day.

“She recalibrated my idea of what strength is,” Matthews said.

According to her fifth grade teacher Jessica Goddard, the song “Hakuna Matata” stuck with Savannah through her diagnosis. Goddard says that although this is the song Savannah used to get through the tougher times, the song was really Savannah’s message to everyone else: life gives everyone worries, but the focus has to be on positivity.

“Savannah could have easily been angry,” Goddard said, “but she made the choice to continue that positive spirit, which is kind of like ‘Hakuna Matata.’”

Her positive spirit also impacted members of RDM at SHS and Southport Middle School, according to RDM Director of Riley Development senior Meghan Mendel. She says Savannah told her story and just let everyone know who she was at the SMS RDM. Mendel says that being a part of RDM can sometimes get difficult knowing that many of the Riley kids they raise money for do not survive. And even though this was the case for Savannah, Mendel feels that the time Savannah spent with RDM members raised their spirits because of her bright smile and personality.

The Southport Police Department also felt her impact through a dine-and-donate they organized at Uno Pizzeria & Grill, according to Public Information Officer John Benton. Benton says the community was able to dine at the restaurant and a percentage of their check went back to Savannah’s family to cover significant costs, including traveling to and from Cincinnati and staying at hotels during treatment. Benton says on top of the necessary fundraisers and treatments, she was always a bright girl and taught him to look at the bright side.

“She chose to be as happy as possible…,” Benton said. “So I think that kind of bled through to (the police department) as well.”

According to Goddard, Savannah’s impact also reached her classmates. Last year, when Savannah took it upon herself to tell her fifth grade class of her diagnosis, she told them not to worry if she glowed in the dark because she was going to get radiation. After Savannah’s passing, Goddard visited former Homecroft students at the Southport Sixth Grade Academy, and one student asked if Savannah ever glowed because he never got to see it. Goddard says although it sounded like a funny joke, her positive outlook was able to stick with the kids and remind them that their classmate was going to fight through whatever challenge she faced.

And Savannah’s mom, Kimberly McHale, could not agree more. She feels that Savannah brought the Southport community together. Along with Goddard and Matthews, she says that the endless fundraisers and support for her daughter made everyone want to help each other and unified all kinds of people.

More than anything, though, Savannah’s lasting impact of positivity will forever live on with her mom. She says that because she was her only daughter, they were so close and did everything together. Savannah was her world, and she’s proud that her daughter made such an impact on the community around her and let everyone know that it was going to be okay.

“She was my everything,” Kimberly said.

Scan this QR code to donate to Savannah’s GoFundMe.