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JPII scholarship fund honors former PE teacher

PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL SMITH Michelle Stueve Smith and her husband Paul enjoy the Hawaiian sunset during a vacation in 2009 just months before she was diagnosed with melanoma. A scholarship has been set up in her name at John Paul II Grade School in Overland Park.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL SMITH Michelle Stueve Smith and her husband Paul enjoy the Hawaiian sunset during a vacation in 2009 just months before she was diagnosed with melanoma. A scholarship has been set up in her name at John Paul II Grade School in Overland Park.

Michelle Stueve Smith Scholarship Endowment has been established


by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven

OVERLAND PARK — Nearly a year has passed since Michelle Smith died of melanoma, but a new scholarship will ensure the memory of this beloved Catholic schoolteacher endures for years.

The Michelle Stueve Smith “Brave Heart” Scholarship Endowment has been established at the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas (CFNEK) to benefit the children of John Paul II Grade School in Overland Park.

Stueve Smith taught physical education from 1979 to 1995 when the school was called Queen of the Holy Rosary, and coached CYO volleyball and track until 2003. She died on Dec. 28, 2011, leaving behind a husband, three children and countless friends and admirers.

“She was such a positive role model and influence on the people at Queen,” said Tara Mescher, a former student of Stueve Smith’s who proposed the idea for a memorial.

Mescher had Stueve Smith in fifth grade and fondly recalled how the two connected.

“We were playing softball and I always threw the bat,” said Mescher. “Michelle made me practice not throwing the bat. Initially, I was pretty irritated with her, but she could make anybody feel good in a tense situation.”

The two became close friends and when Mescher moved to Iowa, they visited each other often. One of Mescher’s daughters is Stueve Smith’s godchild.

When Mescher’s mother died from lung cancer in 1995, Stueve Smith attended the funeral and became a source of support.

“Michele and my mom had similar personalities and a strong faith,” Mescher said. “One of the biggest things she did for me was to keep the memory of my mom alive for me, and I wanted to do that for her children.”

Mescher spent two weeks with Stueve Smith and her family before she died. At that time, Mescher discussed the idea of a memorial.

“She said she would leave that up to me and Pat (her brother),” said Mescher.

The idea lingered in the back of Mescher’s mind until early November. She wrote a letter proposing the idea to JPII principal Susie English, who suggested they set up a scholarship endowment with CFNEK in Stueve Smith’s honor to benefit JPII students.

The school has three other scholarship funds administered by CFNEK. Gary Pratt, CFNEK’s planned giving officer, worked with the family, the school and Mescher to help define the selection criteria and prepare the necessary documents. Within three weeks, the fund was established.

“It was so easy,” said Mescher.

They called it the “Brave Heart” fund after a favorite award Stueve Smith presented at summer volleyball camp at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, where she coached the junior varsity team with Gwen Pike.

“It was her favorite award at the end of the session,” said Stueve Smith’s husband, Paul Smith. “It didn’t go to the best athlete, but to the kid who put in the effort, the kid you want in your foxhole — the tough-minded, never-give-up kid. That’s the way she lived life.”

After completing the paperwork, Smith learned the Miege award was actually called “Strong Heart,” but they kept “Brave Heart” because the name appropriately describes Stueve Smith’s 19-month battle with cancer.

“Michelle had such an impact on everybody she met,” said Smith. “Her faith was so strong way before she got sick and up until the end. Her faith never wavered. She knew where she was going.”

The endowment will provide $1,000 toward tuition at JPII for one male and one female student entering sixth, seventh or eighth grade.

The selection criteria reflect the characteristics of a well-rounded student encouraged by Stueve Smith. Applicants must have participated in at least one CYO sport during the year, have been on the honor roll in the previous fall semester, and be a current altar server at Queen of the Holy Rosary or St. Pius X Church in Mission.

Applicants must also submit a one-page essay describing how JPII School and their Catholic faith have affected the way they treat other people in their lives.

“The criteria are right in line with the way she coached, taught and influenced people,” Smith said.

The JPII principal, with input from the teachers, will select recipients who display “Brave Heart” characteristics. A plaque will be displayed near the JPII gym honoring Stueve Smith and the scholarship winners.

English said the scholarship would offset a third of the tuition costs for recipients and free up money from the school’s tuition assistance fund for more families.

“Any tuition we can receive helps people who want to have their kids in Catholic school stay here,” said English.

English knew Stueve Smith before she came to JPII in 2004.

“Everyone was drawn to Michelle,” English said. “She had an electric smile. She was kind and welcoming. Once you knew her, you knew her for life.”

The scholarship’s mission is near and dear to English’s heart, and she takes seriously her role in making sure recipients possess the qualities defined in the selection criteria.

“When you know the person, you work harder to find the right match,” she said.

The family hopes that with the momentum of year-end giving and a $10,000 matching gift commitment in place, the endowment will reach $50,000 by Dec. 31.

Donate to the Endowment

Donations can be made to the Michelle Stueve Smith “Brave Heart” Scholarship Endowment online at: www.CFNEK.org/braveheart. Checks can be mailed to: The Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas, c/o Michelle Stueve Smith “Brave Heart” Scholarship, 12615 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, KS 66109.

Create a legacy

The Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas (CFNEK) is an archdiocesan resource that helps design legacy gifts for archdiocesan parishes, schools and cemeteries. CFNEK works with the institution, donor and family to draft selection criteria, prepare necessary documentation and administer the endowment to support the continuation of its mission for years to come.

For more information, contact executive director Leslie Knop or planned giving officer Gary Pratt at (913) 647-0325, or visit the CFNEK website at: www.cfnek.org.

About the author

Shelia Myers

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