By Scott Halasz
JAMESTOWN — Stephany McQuary knows how to take over a room.
It doesn’t matter where. A local restaurant. The main office at Greeneview High School. The village’s Bean Festival. Tennessee. And especially the high school prom, which we will get back to.
No matter the locale, the GHS senior has “it.”
“When we go to the McDonald’s, all you hear is ‘Stephy,’ ” said Darrell McQuary, Stephany’s ultra-proud father.
During last year’s bean festival, a state representative stopped his car, called Stephany over and gave her a special bag of candy.
When Stephany and Darrell were at a restaurant and two men came in and began using foul language, Darrell was quick to ask them to tone it down. They saw Stephany, apologized, spent several minutes visiting with the teen, then secretly paid for the McQuarys’ meal.
Even on vacation in Gatlinburg somebody recognized Stephany.
“It’s always that way,” Darrell said.
It’s easy to see how Stephany touches the lives of people by the way fellow senior Baylee Yost’s face lights up when she talks about her.
“You can’t have a bad day around her,” Yost, a longtime friend of Stephany’s, said. “She comes into a room with a smile. Her laugh is so genuine. It’s from her belly. It’s just so cute.”
Stephany has that captivating personality.
As Darrell puts it, his daughter is a “ray of sunshine.”
She is a ray of sunshine who has been through open heart surgery and ear surgery and always comes out of it happy.
Stephany also has Down Syndrome. But nobody seems to notice or care. Which brings us back to the May 7 prom.
Yost, with the help of Wooten, came up with a classy move that can’t be topped. They started a campaign that culminated with Stephany being named the queen of the prom.
It wasn’t a joke. And it wasn’t out of pity. This was serious business.
“Stephy has been part of them ever since she started going to school here,” Darrell said. “They take care of her. They’re like a bunch of mothers to her.”
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better.
All of the students attended a prom preview during which each family cheered as their own kids entered the gym through an arc. When Stephany came out, everyone cheered.
“It almost was one of those moments you wanted to cry,” Yost said. “They chanted for her. I will always remember her face. It was an awing moment.”
Darrell’s voice started to crack describing the moment as he saw it.
“She has Down Syndrome, they accept her for that and maybe there’s hope for society after all,” he said before taking a second to compose himself.
That was just the beginning. Darrell, and his wife, Gwen, were asked to be at the school at a specific time. A teacher for more than three decades, Darrell had a clue all was not status quo as far as proms go.
“We kind of knew going in that something was different,” he said. “The way the kids were acting. It was so awesome.”
Yost said she got the idea during tech week of the spring musical. When she found out Stephany wasn’t planning on attending prom, Yost insisted on taking Stephany with her and date, Kelle Hart. Then Yost and Wooten went to work spreading the word that Stephany should be the queen. While Yost had mentioned to Darrell that they would like to make her queen, one never knows what teens will ultimately do.
“Everybody was on board for it,” Wooten said.
That made Principal Brian Masser a proud man, knowing the senior girls gave up their chance to be in the spotlight.
“It’s still a big deal to be chosen as prom queen,” he said.
The girls used simple reasoning.
Yost said being named queen would be more special to Stephany than any other girl. And it was.
When asked about her favorite part, Stephany was quick to answer.
“The crown,” she said.
And when that crowning moment came, the cheers were deafening.
“It was touching,” Wooten said.
After the king Brad Davis and Stephany had their obligatory dance, longtime friend Jaden Baise took a turn to dance with the new queen.
Then everyone formed a circle around them and each took turns dancing with Stephany. They danced with Stephany all night.
“I was crying,” Darrell admitted. “Mr. Masser was crying. It was just one of those days, one of those events in your life that you’ll never forget. I don’t know how to say it. It just warms your heart.”
That’s the effect Stephany has on anyone she meets. She has so deeply touched Yost and Wooten that both have altered their college plans. Yost was planning on majoring in childhood education but now wants to focus on special education. Wooten was seeking to become a registered nurse, but now she wants to work with special needs kids.
That career-path change is not surprising given that it’s a result of time spent with Stephany.
“She has a personality that is so sensitive to everybody,” Darrell said. “When she’s around other people, she wants other people to be happy. If you’re not, she’s going to find out why and do what she can to cheer you up. You can’t be around her without joy coming into your life. Of course I’m a prejudiced daddy.”
OK, maybe mom and dad have to say that. Her friends don’t have to, however.
But they do.
“If I’m having a bad day, Stephany always makes it better,” said Wooten, a peer tutor for Stephany since fifth grade. “She’s never in a bad mood or upset. She says ‘morning, Jess’ every morning, faithfully. It’s the cutest thing.”
This is something Darrell didn’t see as much of during his 35 years teaching in the Cincinnati area.
“(Greeneview) has always been an awesome school, that’s why I moved out to the area,” Darrell said. “It’s the way the parents out here in this part of the country raise their kids. They’re not doing it because they have to or because anybody told them they have to. They’ve just got good hearts. There’s good kids everywhere. It just seems like they all got together in one class up here.”
One class with a classy move.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.