Kevin Neufeld blinked back tears as he sat for the first time in a special corner of Ross L. Gray School dedicated to the memory of his son, Tyler.
"I’m kind of lost for words," Neufeld, a short-haul truck driver who lives near Piney, said.
When classes resumed last month, the Sprague school dedicated a new reading corner and mural created to honour eight-year-old Tyler, who passed away last December after experiencing a severe choking episode.
Born with Down syndrome, Tyler also had kidney and heart difficulties that meant a cold could be life-threatening, Neufeld explained.
Principal Jared Baines said Tyler was well-known to the school’s 145 students.
"Tyler will always be remembered and never be forgotten."
An active child, Tyler would often roam around the school, his red wagon in tow, and wasn’t intimidated by older kids.
"It was nothing for him to pop his head into a Grade 9 social studies class," Baines said. "He spread his joy around as much as he could."
Baines said school staff conceived of the reading corner after a January memorial service at the school.
"He just loved to be read to," Baines recalled.
Neufeld said his son got that from his mother, Megan Neufeld, who read to Tyler every day. His favourites were Dr. Seuss classics like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.
Two more of the couple’s children, three-year-old Randy and six-year-old Alyssa, were also on hand when their father visited the completed reading corner last Friday.
Neufeld described his son as a "bubbly, active" boy with "a never-ending supply of love" who greeted everyone with a wave and a smile.
Neufeld said he learned from Tyler to focus on the positive rather than dwelling on the negative—a lesson he carries with him on the road.
"In my eyes, he was one of a kind," he said. "There’s not a minute that goes by every day that I don’t think of him."
The reading nook’s mural depicts Tyler and his red wagon at the beach, one of his favourite spots to run and play, with butterflies to symbolize Down syndrome.
Two of the school’s education assistants, Ivy Atnip and Shannon Cote, painted the scene along with librarian Holly Bremault. The trio finished in June, and a wooden bench was installed over the summer.
Neufeld thanked school staff, who he said spent "a tremendous amount of time" with Tyler.
Baines said the hallway corner now occupied by the reading area used to house "an old, grumpy Pepsi machine," and has been transformed into a space where students read and eat lunch, making it a fitting tribute to the affable Tyler.
For now, students can carry library books over to the reading area, or bring their own. Baines said books donated in spring by Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen will be put on display once flood repairs in the school’s library are complete.