RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. — A group of school children in central Indiana released 1,500 colorful balloons into the air last week in tribute to a friend who'd succumbed to a three-year battle with brian cancer. One of those balloons improbably sailed 799 miles and landed in a New England schoolyard, itself no stranger to tragedy.
Children at Western Primary School in Russiaville, Ind. - a town of about 1,100 people that is 60 miles north of Indianapolis - held a ceremony on the playground last Friday to remember Mason Hopkins, a 7-year-old who liked soccer and motorcycles, and called all girls "princesses."
“One of Mason’s best gifts was his ability to fill our buckets with just his friendly smile," his teacher said during the ceremony. "Because Mason touched our hearts in such a special way, we wanted to share that feeling with others. We hope that anyone who sees these balloons in the air today or finds them when they land will also smile and share their smile with others.”
Sure enough, three days later, several people walking their dogs spotted a white balloon outside Hunking Middle School in Haverhill, Mass. Attached was a note that read, "In memory of Mason Hopkins. You will be missed by Western Primary."
They shared the find with Principal Jared Fulgoni, who at first couldn't believe the ballon traveled as far as it did. An Internet search confirmed its origin and turned up an obituary written after Mason's death on Oct. 5.
His story resonated at the middle school, where a student recently died of cancer and a custodian several years ago lost his 8-year-old son to brain cancer.
“So, for us to have had this balloon float down to us was a powerful experience,” Fulgoni said. “It had given its all to make it here. It was weathered and beaten. It was in pretty rough shape.”
Western Primary Principal Steve Arthur said he was surprised to hear from the school in Massachusetts. Teachers in Russiaville are using its journey as an educational opportunity and another way to remember Mason.
“He loved coming to school,” Arthur said. “He loved to learn. He would be excited to find out where the balloons ended up. We hope to use this in a positive way.”
Lindsey Ziliak writes for the Kokomo, Ind., Tribune.