FORT MILL — Gold Hill Elementary School in Fort Mill ended the first week of the school year with a somber memorial honoring an art teacher who died earlier this month.
Family, friends, students and staff from the school attended the service at Nation Ford High School’s auditorium Sunday afternoon to celebrate the life of Rebecca Lynn New, 31, an art teacher at Gold Hill.
New died Aug. 11 while vacationing at Lake Wylie in Mecklenburg County after falling off a dock. She is survived by her fiancé, Chad, and his son, Jackson, of Rock Hill, as well as her parents and other family members. The memorial was organized by New’s family.
Born in Iowa, New studied at Winthrop University and earned her master’s degree in 2009 before heading to Gold Hill where she taught art to 850 students ranging from kindergarteners to fifth-graders.
“Educators are answering a call on their lives. Rebecca was called to inspire and teach students a love of art,” said Chris Gardner, assistant principal at Gold Hill who spoke at New’s memorial.
He described her as being passionate and humble, leading a student art club after school hours without extra pay or a stipend.
The Foundation for Fort Mill Schools is accepting donations for a scholarship in her name that will be given to a student pursuing a career in art.
New’s brother-in-law Matt Wiseman said he’s been touched by the outpouring of support by the community, including the work to set up the scholarship. “That’s a way for Rebecca’s legacy to live on,” he said.
Wiseman, 38, who has known New since she was 11, said, “She was free-spirited and kind of walked to the beat of her own drum.” Paintings and other artwork by New fill his home in Myrtle Beach. “There’s a lot of Rebecca in our house,” he said.
Among the pieces is a painting of a dancer that New gave to Wiseman’s eldest daughter, Alexis, who studies dance and performed a solo routine during Sunday’s memorial.
Community members sat in the darkened auditorium and watched a slideshow of photos flash on a screen above the stage showing snippets of New’s life. Some cried as a four-man ensemble composed of a guitarist, a mandolin player, a singer and a violinist led the singing of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
Chuck Epps, superintendent of the Fort Mill School District, described New as upbeat and always smiling.
“The school district is like a family, we celebrate together and we grieve together,” Epps said.
Grief counselors have been on hand at Gold Hill to help students and staff cope with their loss.
New turned 31 on Aug. 10, the day before she died.
“She went to meet the Lord on the most wonderful day of her life, her birthday,” said the Rev. Patience Brumley, who led the service.
Brumley recalled how New made it a point to showcase one piece of artwork from every Gold Hill student at an annual show.
“I wonder how many people would have made sure each and every one of her 850 students had a piece of art,” Brumley said at the service.
As an educator, Brumley said that New stressed the idea that “every person has worth.”
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062