On the same playground where Denair Elementary Charter Academy fourth grade teacher Mark Selee was often seen playing basketball with students, hundreds of Denair community members gathered on Wednesday to honor him after he died recently of an apparent heart attack.
The walkway from the parking lot to the playground was lined with luminaries decorated by fourth and fifth graders, and a nearby table was full of photos of Selee with his students. While most in attendance donned commemorative yellow shirts, everyone was given a candle to light during a performance of “Amazing Grace” by Ashley Eudy. Pastor Dave Larson from New Life Church in Turlock, where Selee’s funeral will be held, also said a prayer.
“It was beautiful. Perfect,” said DECA Principal Sara Michelena.
Then, one after the other, all 26 students from Selee’s class offered personal reflections. They recalled that he often was funny, that he loved 1980s rock music and the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, and that he hated glitter, which is why many of them respectfully used it as part of the signs and posters they created to honor him.
Following Selee’s students, a number of others spoke of the beloved teacher, including two members of the Turlock Sea Dogs Swim Team, which Selee helped coach, three of his DECA colleagues who knew him best — fourth grade teacher Patti Morrissey, fifth grade teacher Tami Sondeno and fifth grade teacher Kirsten Sweeten, and Michelena, who paid tribute to Selee’s fondness for rock ’n roll by introducing another song — Twisted Sister’s “Heroes Are Hard to Find.”
The audience then joined Eudy in the Christian anthem “I Can Only Imagine” before Larson offered a final prayer.
Selee’s wife, Beth Selee, thanked everyone for coming. She said her husband loved his students, the school community and his friends. She was surrounded by their sons, Alex and Peyton, and Selee’s parents, Ruth and Bill.
Thursday morning before class, Selee’s students also released hundreds of balloons in his memory. In their classroom, a Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments remembering Selee. New teacher Mary Prine, a frequent substitute whose two children attend DECA, has taken over Selee’s class for the rest of the school year.
“She’s so perfect,” Michelena said. “She said she felt like this was her calling. She’s very sensitive to the students’ needs.”
School counselor Maria Yakoub has been a frequent visitor in class this week, working with children individually and in small groups. Grief counselors from Jessica’s House and the Turlock Chaplains group also have been on campus for students and staff.
KAT Country 103.3 FM will be on hand today to broadcast the “Pledge of Allegiance” and pay tribute to Selee. People should listen just after 8 a.m., Michelena said.
Selee, age 44, died suddenly on Nov. 22 of an apparent heart attack in Camarillo. He is survived by his wife and best friend of 19 years Beth Selee, and his two sons, Alex Selee and Peyton Selee.
To purchase a Selee T-shirt, visit facebook.com/decaschool. The shirts are $10 and were designed by parent Breann Smith. All the proceeds go to the Selee family.
A Celebration of Life for Selee will be at 1 p.m. today at New Life Christian Center. Burial to follow at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson.