MURRAY – The Southwest Calloway Elementary community honored the memory of Mandi Murdock on what would have been her 44th birthday Tuesday by celebrating “Kindness Day,” something school administrators and faculty hope to make a new annual tradition.
Murdock, who was a guidance counselor at the school, died unexpectedly on Jan. 3. Southwest Principal Mark Mallory said the loss was extremely hard on the faculty and staff, but he thought Tuesday gave them a chance to pause for a moment to grieve. Mallory said Laker Cove Family Resource Center Coordinator Jan Wilson and Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President Kaylee Wilson came up with the idea for Kindness Day and several activities to go along with it, including posing students near the playground to take a drone shot of their bodies spelling out “BE KIND.” Jeremy McKeel, the manager of Murray State University Digital Media Services and owner of McKeel Video Productions, brought his drone to the school to take the photo.
“Today is Mrs. Murdoch's birthday, so we wanted to do something to commemorate her,” Mallory said. “Obviously, it's been very tough. We really haven't had a chance to grieve as a faculty because it's kind of one of those (things where) you’ve just got to be here for the kids. So this was kind of one of our ways of being part of that healing process. As I said to the kids, Mrs. Murdock lived kindness every day, so doing a ‘Be Kind’ day in her honor felt appropriate. Jan Wilson and Kaylee Wilson really came up with the idea, and so I said, ‘Absolutely, let's run with it.’”
Jan Wilson said she was close with Murdock and admired her kindness and also how resilient her spirit was after her 18-year-old daughter, Kenzie, died from cancer almost four years ago.
“Losing Mandi was just a heartache for everybody,” Jan Wilson said. “I’ve only been here for three years and she made a big impact on my life. She was also a personal friend and we would go out and do stuff together, and no matter all the hardships that she went through, her perseverance to come to school every day, to love each of these kids every single day and to be a role model of how to be kind (was incredible). She was the kindest, and today's her birthday, so this was a great way to honor her and make sure that the kids remember her.
“It's kind of hard on the staff. It is still pretty fresh and there have been several tears today. We all love Mandi, we love her family and we just want to make sure people know that Southwest is going to be kind. We want everybody to be kind. Mandi would always say, ‘Love ya. Be kind.’”
“Everybody wanted to do something (to remember Murdock), but it’s kind of one of those situations where you don’t know what to do,” said Kaylee Wilson. “So I think this was an awesome way for everybody to participate and take part. No matter if they’re in kindergarten or staff, they get to play a role in it.”
As part of the event, Jan Wilson said all classrooms were making greeting cards, with some grades sending cards to nursing homes and some sending cards to police and fire departments, ambulance workers and Murray-Calloway County Hospital nurses and other staff. Since today, Feb. 22, is Bus Driver Appreciation Day, the younger children were making big cards to go to each of the school’s bus drivers. Kaylee Wilson gathered addresses for members of Murdock’s family for classes to send “thinking of you” cards as well. In addition, the students brought in an impressive amount of canned goods for a food drive. Jan said the cans would stock blessing boxes, which she said Murdock was very passionate about.
Many students wore green in honor of Kenzie Murdock, and a few wore giraffe ossicones on their heads or a spotted pattern because Mandi Murdock loved giraffes and had various giraffe iconography in her office. Mallory went a step beyond that and wore a full giraffe costume. While speaking to the children through a megaphone as the classes prepared to stand for the drone photo, Mallory referred to the “kindness benches” – also called “buddy benches” – at the playground. Kaylee Wilson said Mandi played a major role in helping the PTA raise money for a new playground, and Mandi had wanted to place the benches there in Kenzie’s memory. The two blue benches now bear nameplates memorializing both of them, and Jan Wilson said the Murdocks’ family members placed their handprints on them with yellow paint.
“Kindness Day is in memory of the absolute kindest woman I've ever met in my entire life, Mrs. Mandi Murdock,” Mallory said through the megaphone. “We’re here for each other and we’re here for Mrs. Murdock. Maybe you saw those two benches when you came out; those are our kindness benches and those are dedicated to Mrs. Murdock and her daughter. Those will be going out on the playground, and the purpose of those is if you're ever feeling lonely, like you need a friend, I want you to go sit on those benches. And if you ever see someone sitting on those benches, I want you to go and sit down next to them and I want you to start a conversation because they need somebody at that moment. Everybody needs somebody at some point in time.”
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