Hortonville honors deceased student
By Scott Bellile
Honorary homecoming queen Emily Nickel is no longer with the Hortonville community physically, but the 16-year-old junior was in many ways the star of Homecoming 2015.
Emily, daughter of Mark and Kristen Nickel, died two weeks ago in a one-vehicle rollover accident on School Road in Greenville. Hortonville High School students used this year’s annual homecoming week to celebrate not just school spirit and sports, but also the life of their late friend.
At the football game Friday, Oct. 2, hundreds donned headbands of Emily’s favorite color, purple, and T-shirts printed with her smiling face. Polar Bears fans bought 50/50 raffle tickets by the handful in support of Emily’s family (the winner’s earnings surpassed $1,000). The crowd shared a moment of silence before the game, and the dance team dedicated its halftime performance to Emily.
The Nickel family took time from the hectic week to attend the game.
“We’ve been busy,” said Emily’s sister Grace, a freshman. “But it’s been helpful just being around people and just staying in motion, so then we don’t just sit down and think about it.”
Friends Olivia Baehman and MacKenzie Kalwitz said they were impressed by the community support. They wore the remembrance T-shirts, which display on the back a favorite quote of Emily’s: “The true key to happiness is to love who you are. Be you.”
“We’ve all come together in this past week,” Baehman said. “It’s been awesome to see.”
Baehman knew Emily through basketball and predicted she would have made her varsity debut this year. Basketball player and homecoming queen Madi Walter said the team will play for Emily this winter.
Hortonville High School soccer coach Paul Everett said it’s hard to describe life without Emily, who spent four years as a ball girl for him.
“[She] always had a smile on her face and she always put everyone else before herself,” Everett said.
Emily’s smile comes first to Grace’s mind when she remembers her sister. Grace’s favorite memory with Emily is building a fort in the living room and playing board games all day after an EF2 tornado knocked out the power in August 2013.
“She was always smiling no matter what, and even when we fought, like a few minutes later she’d just make a joke with me. We’d all just laugh,” Grace said. “It was just fun with her.”
The accident killed Emily and injured three 16-year-old girls just before 6 p.m. on Sept. 25. All were wearing seatbelts.
Grace said Emily was going to a movie that night and her family couldn’t reach her on the phone. One to two hours later the police came to their home with the message.
“I was in shock because I just didn’t believe it,” Grace said.
Although the Fond du Lac football team beat the Polar Bears 26-21 Friday, the Cardinals’ student section showed sympathy with purple balloons and a memorial banner. It stated, “Hortonville, we stand with you in memory of Emily. Let her light shine…FH.”
Fond du Lac High School senior Brianna Hettenhaus, whose mother designed the banner, said homecoming is a sad time for a tragedy, and the Cardinals didn’t want to show rivalry.
“We’re just trying to support them in this time,” Hettenhaus said.
Emily’s honorary homecoming queen status was uplifting, Grace said. She was surprised to learn, based on the funeral turnout, how many area residents Emily really impacted.
“Almost the whole entire town was there,” Grace said. “It meant a lot that so many people were touched by my sister.”