Sidney bids farewell to beloved teacher

2012-03-30T19:00:00Z 2014-08-25T23:53:17Z Sidney bids farewell to beloved teacherBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

SIDNEY -- It was Sherry Arnold's last trip to Sidney High School.

On Friday morning, Fulkerson Funeral Home brought the casket holding Arnold's body to the school and placed it in the gymnasium. As school staff, students and community members streamed into the gym, many paused and looked on the closed casket, silently saying their goodbyes.

Arnold had taught math in Sidney for 18 years, most of that time at the high school. When she wasn't in the classroom, teaching or helping students, she was in the Sidney High gym, cheering them on as one of the school's biggest fans.

On Friday, students, colleagues, the community and her family gathered in that gym to say goodbye.

Arnold disappeared while running early on the morning of Jan. 7, allegedly abducted by Michael Keith Spell, 22, and Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, both of Parachute, Colo.

Her body was discovered two weeks ago in a shallow grave outside Williston, N.D.

Spell told investigators he pulled Arnold into a car and that Waters choked her to death before they buried her in a shallow grave. Authorities said Spell attempted to take FBI agents to the site but he couldn't find it.

The discovery of Arnold's remains last week across state lines from where the kidnapping means federal charges could be filed against the two suspects.

The two suspects are being held in jail on $2.5 million bail each.

Logan Sinks, a senior at Sidney High School, and Cody Schroeder, a junior -- both past students of Arnold's -- walked into the gym and sat down an hour before the service began. Classes let out at noon so students and staff could attend.

"This is a time to reflect on who she was," Sinks said.

In the lobby outside the gym, friends of the Arnold family stood in small groups. One couple simply stood off to the side, holding each other and openly crying. The mood all morning in class was somber.

"We were just kinda going through the motions," Sinks said.

Schroeder called Arnold's disappearance and homicide "completely devastating" for the school.

"It's something that's always going to stick with our generation," he said.

The audience stood while the Arnold family walked into the gym, which was built to hold 2,000 people and had only a few empty seats.

As the services began, many expressed mixed emotions. The memorial allowed the community to come together and mourn, to remember and honor Arnold and to show support to her family. But for many, it also reopens the trauma felt when she went missing.

"She meant so much to all of us," said Cheryl Moran, whose children took math from Arnold. "It's a relief they found her body. But it drags up the feelings of two months ago."

The funeral service was officiated by the Rev. David Warner of Trinity Lutheran Church. But before the ceremony began, three local pastors and school district Superintendent Dan Farr addressed the crowd. Each hit on themes of redemption, forgiveness, hope and strength.

As Farr spoke, he extended his condolences to Arnold's husband, Gary, and to her parents, Ron and Sharon, and to her children. He also praised the community for the support it has shown the family over the last two months.

"I look out on the gym today and I can only feel proud," Farr said. "Your actions, your emails, even the little hugs, have meant so much to the family, to staff and to students."

The Rev. Ned Shinnick, of St. Matthew's Catholic Church, spoke of Shakespearean tragedies and the futility of seeking vengeance.

"The just man shall be damned when he seeks vengeance," he tells them, quoting a Psalm in a thick Irish lilt.

He drew laughs from the crowd as he spoke of Arnold's athletic prowess and the influence she had in the community. He then assured people that she was now "with the Lord."

"Permit me to say," he continued, "that God took her in her greatest hour." He acknowledged that those sentiments bring little comfort to the family. But God knows us, he said. "He takes all of us in our greatest hour."

He then told the group to focus their energy and their love of Arnold on building up the community again.

"I hear there are thoughts of vengeance," he said. "What does vengeance really do? Let us not think of revenge. Let us not think of violence."

Instead, he said, make the community great again.

The final speaker before the formal funeral service was Pastor George Karres of Pella Lutheran Church.

He called Arnold's death Sidney's 9/11 and told the group that just like there was hope following Jesus' death on the cross, so, too, does Sherry's family, and the community, have hope.

"There is hope because resurrection and new life is coming," he said. "God is going to turn death into life. God is going to turn sorrow into joy."

Following the service, Arnold was carried out of the gym for the last time. The funeral procession made its way to Sidney Cemetery where she was buried on a hillside overlooking the town.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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