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Memorial page will be in yearbook

Menahga School senior Mikey Anderson spoke on behalf of seniors who want to include a memorial page for Kyle Kenyon, who committed suicide. Anderson was best friends with Kenyon. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

A Menahga student who committed suicide will have a memorial page in the 2013 yearbook, school board members decided Monday night.

Several people spoke to the board in favor of including a memorial page for Kyle Kenyon in the yearbook. Kenyon would have been a 2013 graduate.

In early October, a group of people took the issue to media through Facebook. The issue made statewide and national news. Administrators said they were still in the process of making decisions when the issue hit the Internet.

Since then, the issue was brought to the school board and parents and students were invited to be a part of the process to develop policies surrounding yearbook content.

Monday night, Kenyon's mother, Peggy Havnes, asked the board to keep Kyle in mind and said, "I beg you to allow him to be in the yearbook."

Mikey Anderson spoke on behalf of Menahga seniors who wanted a memorial page. He conducted a survey among the senior class. The results showed 21 students wanted a memorial page, six students did not want a memorial page and eight students were neutral about the issue.

"He was my best friend," Anderson said of Kenyon. "He should be included."

Patricia Samuelson said that the suicide struck the close-knit community hard and she is still grieving. Samuelson is a parent of a member of the senior class.

"I'm 100 percent in favor," of including a memorial page in the yearbook.

Colleen Frost, of Perham, heard about the issue Menahga School was going through and wanted to share her insight into dealing with death.

She explained that she had cancer and was told she had one year to live. She has gone through many rounds of chemotherapy and has out-lived the predictions.

"These kids are in the process of healing," Frost said. " ... I'm team Kyle. Let's remember how he lived, not how he died."

Patti Starke, executive director of the Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Network of Minnesota also attended the meeting.

She told the school board that she is willing to offer resources to the school for education about mental illness.

"Death is a very difficult thing," she said. She implored the board to listen to the kids and support their decision.

School administrators came up with five options for the board to consider regarding ways to include Kenyon the yearbook and school activities.

The options included purchasing space in the yearbook for senior recognition, sponsor advertising, purchasing additional pages, a senior class picture next to Kenyon's truck and being included in the slideshow at graduation.

High school principal Dan Stifter said it is a complex issue and he has been doing a lot of research. He was concerned about the possibility of contagion and having another student commit suicide after seeing a memorial.

Superintendent Mary Klamm said the intent was never to exclude Kenyon but administration said no to a full page memorial.

Board members had mixed feelings about the issue and some took issue with the way it was stirred up on Facebook before administrators had a chance to come to a resolution.

Board member Jon Kangas said there are differing opinions about contagions but ultimately he said this was about the students and what they want included. He endorsed a full page memorial for Kenyon.

Board member Ernest Huhta also favored a full page memorial.

"It's the wish of the students," he said.

Board member Curtis Hasbargen wondered about other memorials and if this decision would set precedence for other memorials for teachers, board members or other people.

Board member Brad Goehrig said in the back of his mind he is worried about contagion. He was also concerned about how the issue was handled.

"This whole thing could have been taken care of a lot more peacefully," he said of the issue going to Facebook.

Board member Al Peterson said he understood both sides of the argument but was in favor of the memorial page.

Board chair Durwin Tomperi said he was also concerned about how the issue got in front of everyone on the media.

The board approved the memorial page 4-2, with Goehrig and Hasbargen voting in opposition.

One concern that was discussed is that an extra memorial page would cost money. The board is unable to pay for the page. Huhta said several people in the community have already said they would donate to the cause.

The discussion then led to a decision to direct administration to develop some language to add to the student handbook regarding yearbook content that could be referred to in the future.

Kenyon's mother, Havnes, thanked the board and asked to work with students to make final approval of the memorial page and photo of her son in the yearbook.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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