INDIAN TRAIL — Poplin Elementary lost a beloved member of its staff last week (Nov. 13) when Melissa Bowman passed away due to COVID-19.
Bowman was the data manager at Poplin and spent two decades as an employee of Union County Public Schools. She was 51 years old, five days away from turning 52, when she died.
Principal Kate Earp spoke with the Enquirer-Journal about Bowman and how students, staff and administration will remember her.
Earp knew Bowman for eight years. On Saturday, the day after Bowman’s passing, Earp held a virtual staff meeting where participants cried and prayed, she said.
For those who never got the chance to meet Bowman, Earp describes her personality as bubbly, happy and zealous. Bowman had a vivacious spirit and cared for every person in the building like a second mother, Earp said.
“Everybody knew Melissa,” Earp said. Adding that the front office is quiet because Bowman was the “personality of the front office.”
Monday was a quiet day. This week, students have approached Earp expressing sadness that Bowman passed. “Extreme sadness” fills the hallways, classrooms and offices of Poplin Elementary, Earp said. “This week has been really, really difficult.”
When talking about Bowman’s relationship with students, Earp said, “The kids always knew that Melissa was always the one person in the building they could come to if they were having a problem.”
Earp described Bowman as having a nurturing personality and that personality led Bowman to look after students if she knew they were experiencing something difficult, even in their personal lives. Earp said Bowman would check on students to see if they were OK and that she built a lot of trusting relationships.
Whatever needed to be done, from hanging frames in classrooms to dressing in costumes and performing in skits, Bowman could be relied upon to pitch in and help out.
Because Bowman was so popular and well-liked at the school, many have memories of her they want to talk about. Earp has swapped a lot of heart-warming stories about Bowman.
Earp’s favorite story was from last summer when she, the bookkeeper and the school mascot went to local neighborhoods where students live to parade around letting kids know how much the school missed them. Earp and the mascot sat in the trunk of the van while the bookkeeper drove.
As soon as Bowman found out about this, she offered the trio her truck. Bowman knew it would be easier for them to ride in the truck bed than in the back of a van. Bowman did the driving.
Earp said the Poplin is planning a memorial garden and will have the crosswalk put in her name so her legacy can remain tied to the school.
Earp said the school community is relying on each other like family members, and will grieve together. The pandemic is a major challenge unto itself, but Poplin has had it especially rough of late. Earp said they are also dealing with the death of a former student who was the victim of a hit-and-run involving a juvenile driver in early October.
Poplin Elementary closed in August for two weeks following the announcement of two positive cases of COVID among staff members.