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Santa Fe High alumni come together to raise money, celebrate their school

July 15, 2018

Months ago, Rachel Lyons assumed her 10-year high school reunion would be a low-key affair. Perhaps she and other members of Santa Fe High School’s class of 2008 would go to Top Golf in Webster, she thought, or rent out a restaurant near the small Galveston County community.

That all changed on May 18, when she and other alumni learned a 17-year-old student had killed 10 people and wounded 13 at their alma mater.

“We didn’t want to have fun while the town was in so much pain,” Lyons said. “We figured, why don’t we try to do something to bring something positive back to town? Let’s bring on the school pride.”

Lyons and dozens of other Santa Fe alumni from as far back as the class of 1988 spent the past couple of months planning The Alumni Santa Fe Strong Benefit Concert, which on Sunday brought hundreds to the Galveston County Fairgrounds.

The fundraiser felt more like a community barbecue than a solemn remembrance, something Lyons strove for as she helped organize the event from her new home in Bay City. She went so far as to cash in all of her vacation and sick days so she could make the three-hour round trip to Galveston County multiple times each week to help get everything together.

Children shrieked as they bounced down inflatable slides, and slurped snow cones in the steamy summer heat. Adults perused donated items up for auction and raffles, which included horse bridles, fire pits, a wagon filled with bottles of whiskey and an all-inclusive trip for two to Africa. Some stood underneath a large, metal awning and held cold cans of Miller Lite to their faces and necks as pockets of thunderstorms rolled across the fairgrounds.

Aaron Ricicar and Jennifer Currier, who both graduated from Santa Fe High in 2003, drove more than three and a half hours from Shertz, located between San Antonio and New Braunfels, to sell koozies, stickers and phone grips in their hometown.

Currier said another classmate covered the cost of the merchandise so all proceeds could go to those who lost loved ones or are recovering physically from the shooting.

“It is a far drive, but it’s home,” Currier said. “To think something like that could happen in our hometown shows that this really can happen anywhere.”

Some speakers who addressed the crowd between band performances asked those gathered to do more than donate their money. Rhonda Hart, whose daughter Kimberly Vaughan was killed in the massacre, urged folks to get more involved with the Santa Fe Independent School District.

“For every koozie and shirt you buy, you need to go to one school board meeting,” Hart said. “Call your representatives in Austin and Washington and ask what their plans are to keep Texas’ students safe.”

Nearby, Wesley Willoughby and several other members of the Galveston County Mounted Posse civic group watched the party perched atop horses. Willoughby graduated from Santa Fe High in 2010 and knew four people who were injured in the shooting.

He and his class are still a couple years shy of celebrating their 10-year anniversary, but Willoughby said he was inspired by the class of 2008’s example.

“This is pretty dang awesome,” he said. “But this is just what we do - this is what Santa Fe does. We’re all ready to get out and help.”

shelby.webb@chron.com

twitter.com/shelbywebb

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