About 300 students, parents, friends and co-workers of Madrona K-8 teacher GayLynne Ullerich lit candles and gathered on the Madrona K-8 playfield Sunday night to remember the vibrant life of the physical education teacher who died in a car crash Saturday morning as she and her family were headed to the mountains for a day of skiing.
Mrs. Ullerich died after the Suburban in which she was riding left the road, slid into a snowbank and rolled over, hitting a tree just after 8 a.m. Saturday. Her husband, Jeff, and the couple’s two teen-age children also were injured. They were treated at Cascade Medical Center and returned home to Edmonds Saturday night, friends of the family said.
“We are gathered here not only because we care about GayLynne and her family, but we care about each other,” said Pastor Paul Sundberg of Trinity Lutheran in Lynnwood, where the Ullerich family
attends church. “The harsh reality of this moment is, there are no good explanations for why it happened. Tragedy reaches into our lives from time to time and changes everything in an instant.
“We gather to remember a friend, teacher, partner who was invested in young people, invested in the joys of activities and being outside in the world and who was on her way to indulge in those joys when she died,” Sundberg said. “We have an opportunity to honor her memory by caring for each other in the days ahead.”
It’s important “to keep telling stories of GayLynne,” Sundberg added. “Her love, her compassion, her way of being with us, so that others will know it, so that we remember it, so that her life will still touch ours.”
As the crowd began walking around the Madrona track, singing “Amazing Grace,” Sundberg described Mrs. Ullerich as someone who enjoyed the outdoors and being active. She was an avid bike rider, often riding her bike to school, and at one point the entire Ullerich family did a bicycle ride across the state of Iowa, Sundberg said. Friends noted that Mrs. Ullerich taught bicycle repair clinics at REI that were specifically aimed at helping women become comfortable working on their bikes.
The evening was organized by Madrona seventh-grader Nicole Roundy, who said she at first wanted to gather a few friends for a candlelight ceremony to remember a favorite teacher. But as the word began to spread across text messages and Facebook, the crowd grew, with cars filling the Madrona parking for the 5 p.m. event. A large piece of butcher paper was placed on a table for people to sign, and a place near the track was designated for flowers that people brought in honor of Mrs. Ullerich.
Nicole Roundy said she will always remember Mrs. Ullerich for being “really nice” and also for her hairstyle. “She had a really awesome perm. That’s one way that people will remember her — by her perm.”
Counselors will be available on Tuesday for students and staff when they return to Madrona after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and Pastor Sundberg told the group: “Do not be afraid to talk to someone about your grief and the emotions you’re feeling. Most of us need someone to talk to.”
The following letter was posted to the school’s website by Madrona Principal Lynda Fisher:
Dear Madrona Community,
My heart is breaking as I share the news that our health/fitness/PE teacher GayLynne Ullerich was killed Saturday morning in a car accident. She was with her family as they were driving in the mountains for a day of skiing. Her husband and children survived the accident and are at home now. This is such a tragedy and I hope you each will join me in holding her precious family in your hearts and prayers.
Our staff have been notified and we will be meeting both informally this weekend and formally on Tuesday morning to support each other and to prepare to support our students. The school district will send in additional counselors to provide support for students as well. It is my hope that most of our families receive this email so that parents may share this sad news with their children prior to hearing it discussed at school.
Though devastating, I know we will get through this together as a Madrona family. I will forever remember GayLynne’s wonderful, healthful energy, caring heart and quick smile and I, like you, will miss her dearly.
With great sadness,
Editor’s note: Many students and parents have been sharing their thoughts and memories about Mrs. Ullerich at the end of the previous story, so we are linking to it here.