Although her life was cut short at 27, Christina Whelan made a difference in so many lives.
A beloved daughter, sister, niece, friend, and teacher, Whelan died on Aug. 30, 2011, in a tragic car accident on North Carolina’s I-85. Christina was on the way to her teaching job when the accident occurred. Her family, friends, and co-workers want her to be remembered for the wonderful life of service that she lived.
Nichol wants to continue Christina’s legacy of giving.
“We want to keep her memory alive and her dreams alive, too,” Nichol said.
It was Christina’s dream to make sure that students had the tools necessary to learn.
“She spent money from her own pocket to make sure her students had everything they needed,” Nichol said. “We started to think about everything she did in her life, and we didn’t want that to stop.”
Christina’s legacy lives on through the Butterfly Foundation. The foundation was developed by her family and friends to raise money for a local educational scholarship that will be awarded to a Lincoln High School student. Other funds will be used to buy and donate supplies to the Gaston County School District in North Carolina where Christina taught for six years.
Two upcoming events in Ellwood City will be held to raise money for the foundation—a Butterfly Bash and a Golf Outing. The Butterfly Bash will feature entertainment by Rudy Zetz and Janet Falotico (karaoke and dancing) on July 28 from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Ellwood City SOI ($5 donation and a school supply will be requested at the door).
The Butterfly Foundation Golf Outing will feature many events on the green on Aug. 12 at Del-Mar Golf Course. More information and signups for the golf outing can be obtained at the Del-Mar Golf Course Pro-Shop (see brochure).
The Butterfly Foundation is a breath of new life for Nichol, who remembers Aug. 30, 2011 vividly.
“The day she passed away we wanted to escape the chaos, so we went for a walk. We saw a Monarch Butterfly. It followed us back to the house. It was kind of our sign that she’s OK,” Nichol said about how the foundation’s name was chosen.
According to Nichol, Lincoln High School was chosen for the scholarship so that someone from Christina’s hometown can pursue the same dreams.
“We want to allow a student the opportunity to change lives just like Christina did,” Nichol said.
Christina herself was a 2002 graduate of Lincoln High School. During her time at Lincoln she was a member of the drama club and the Ellwood City Girls Softball League.
Nichol said she wasn’t sure if it was necessarily a lifelong dream of Christina’s to be a teacher, but upon her return from studying abroad in Australia that is the path she took.
“I think it was the right choice. Teaching was her life,” Nichol said.
Christina’s journey in education began after her graduation from Slippery Rock University in 2006. After earning her degree in elementary education, Christina was hired by the Gaston County School District in North Carolina. She taught first and third grade at Brookside Elementary School for six years and taught second grade at Carr Elementary School for just a few days before her death.
Christina was a leader to her students and her colleagues. She was co-chairman of the Students Services Management Team, served on the School Improvement Team, and was a grade-level facilitator. She strived to make the education system better for her students by helping the school district secure grants in technology, reading, and math.
Kim DeForest, a fellow teacher and friend of Christina, said her passion for teaching and her mission to provide for the students is inspiring.
“Her drive was there all the time,” she said. “She was great with technology and adapted to teaching whatever grade she was assigned to.”
DeForest said Christina managed to change the lives of all the students she came in contact with, but there was at least one student each year that the beloved teacher helped transform.
“I saw her pull students out of their shells,” DeForest said.
According to DeForest, Christina was a one-in-a-million.
“With her there were so many things that made her special,” DeForest said. “I can’t pinpoint only one thing.”
DeForest is happy to see Christina’s legacy live on.
“I think it (the Butterfly Foundation) is amazing,” she said. “I think it is what Christina would want.”
Christina left behind another sister Amanda and her parents Randy and Joni Pansera, along with many other family members, loving students, and cherished friends.
Her students and their thankful parents will never forget Christina.
In an entry in the guestbook found on Christina’s obituary page, one parent expressed praise for Christina.
“I wish I could tell you thank you in person for the joy you brought my daughter. You were only her teacher for 6 days and she fell in love with you. She is going to miss you so much. She says you were favorite teacher and wishes you were still here,” a parent wrote on Sept. 1, 2011, just two days after Christina’s death.
A coworker also wrote about Christina’s dedication to her career and students on the same obituary webpage, “please know that your daughter made a REAL impression on her fellow staff members and all of those students who were lucky enough to be assigned to her class. Christina came to Brookside ready to teach and embrace her students from day one. Be proud that you had such a wonderful daughter! She and my daughter share the same year of birth, and I remember thinking that I knew she had her head on straight! Wonderful girl, unforgettable teacher, and a great friend and ‘ear’ to all of her faculty friends!”
Nichol said she will never forget the beautiful life Christina led.
“She had such a great sense of humor. She was always making people laugh. She touched a lot of lives,” Nichol said.