On a tearful day at Effingham County High School, friends and colleagues of Megan Kessler reflected on the difference she made on campus and off.
Kessler, 30, a special education teacher at ECHS, died in a three-vehicle crash on Old Augusta Road Sunday afternoon.
“Megan was a great teacher and wonderful mother,” said retired ECHS parapro Denese Parker. “My heart is very heavy.”
Kessler, who lived in Rincon, and her mother, Marlys Strempke, 54, of Allenhurst, both died at the scene of the crash. A pickup that crossed into their path hit the van they were riding in around 4 p.m., according to the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office.
Two people in the pickup, both teenagers, were taken to Memorial Heath University Medical Center with “what appear to be possible life-threatening injuries,” said ECSO spokesman Detective David Ehsanipoor. One was flown by Life Star helicopter to the hospital and the other was taken by ambulance, he added.
Karlie Miles, 19, was driving the truck and her passenger was Ivey Castaneda, 15, according to the ECSO. Castaneda is a student at Effingham County High School and Miles is a 2013 ECHS graduate.
Kessler was in her eighth year teaching at Effingham County High School. Kessler, a married mother of three young children, taught students with severe to profound learning disabilities, according to fellow special education teacher Mike Ward.
“There’s a lot of grieving going on,” Ward said of the ECHS campus Monday.
‘Epitome of a teacher’
Effingham County High School Principal Yancy Ford saw something special in Megan Kessler right away. He said he “immediately knew she was a special teacher with a big heart” when he interviewed her for a job eight years ago.
Kessler got the job and made a lasting impact at ECHS.
“She brought passion and excellence to her classroom and our school,” Ford said. “There will be a void at ECHS without Megan here, but I know she is looking down upon us with a bright smile.”
Whereas some teachers might have a student for just one class in one year, Kessler had a different relationship with her students. Because Kessler taught students with severe disabilities, Ward said, she was with her students all day, every day, from their start to finish of high school.
“She really had an attachment to those kids,” Ward said. “Those kids, that’s like their second mom. That’s all they see.”
Kessler’s contributions went beyond the classroom, according to Ward. She helped many of her students find jobs after high school or assisted them with basic needs just so they could attend school.
“It was like hitting the lottery when your child got her,” Ward said. “She was amazing. She’s the epitome of a teacher. If a kid needed clothes, she was going to go buy him some clothes. If a kid was hungry, she was going to feed the kid.”
Kessler passed on to her students the importance of making a difference, as she helped them create an on-campus recycling program. The students made the rounds from classroom to classroom collecting paper.
“We recycled tons of paper because of her,” Ward said. “There’s some kind of record that they set with all the paper recycling they were doing with her class.”
Parker recalled a different project Kessler initiated to benefit her special-education students. She took them to local businesses that allowed the students to assist with tasks they could handle.
“She deserves all the praises she can get,” Parker said. “My heart goes out to all of my ECHS family as well as to Megan’s family.”
As the ECHS football team’s defensive coordinator and a former Georgia Southern linebacker, Ward appreciated Kessler’s love of football — and one team in particular. She was a “huge Denver Broncos fan,” he said.
In fact, Ward noticed that she had posted about the Broncos on her Facebook page around noon Sunday — the day of the Broncos’ season opener. She was looking forward to another season following the Broncos’ march to the Super Bowl last year.
“When they went to the Super Bowl, she was mad because people were jumping on the bandwagon,” Ward said with a chuckle. “She was day one a Denver Broncos fan.”
Close to parents
Funeral arrangements for Kessler and Strempke have not yet been announced.
Kessler was a Hinesville native and a graduate of Bradwell Institute. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Strempke worked at Walmart in Hinesville, according to the Coastal Courier. Her husband and Kessler’s father, David Strempke, retired from the U.S. Army as a first sergeant and has lived in Allenhurst since 1995.
“For sure she was a daddy’s girl,” Parker said of Kessler.
Updates on the conditions of the two teenagers injured in the wreck were not available Monday.
This crash came one week after two people died in separate single-car wrecks in Effingham County during the Labor Day weekend.
“This is four fatalities within just the past seven days,” Ehsanipoor said. “It’s just a tragic crash.”