Homecoming queen gives sixth-grader’s grieving mother a final gift
A sixth-grade girl at Most Holy Redeemer in Montgomery had a simple dream — she wanted to be crowned homecoming queen someday.
Her school volleyball coach, Kayla Trcka, got the honor this year at Tri-City United. She was crowned on Sept. 24. The young girl, Mary Urtuzuastegui, 11, nicknamed Molly, couldn’t concentrate on volleyball two days later when Kayla came for practice.
“All [during] volleyball she was asking me about my dress that I wore for homecoming [coronation],” Kayla said. “She was asking me to show her pictures.”
Just two days later, Kayla handed the crown to Mary’s mother, Doreen Devoy-Hulgan. It was about noon on Saturday, the day after Tri-City’s big win over Sibley East, 47-6, in its homecoming game. Not long after the game, Mary had said hello to Kayla. She was waiting for her stepdad to come and pick her up.
She never made it home. Mary and her stepdad, Condon “Sparky” Hulgan, were killed in a car accident Sept. 27 at about 10 p.m. on Highway 26 near Montgomery, about three miles from their home. The crash also claimed the lives of Travis Reak, 24, and Jeffrey Miller, 22, both of Le Center. Miller’s brother, Mark, 24, survived the accident.
Moved by faith
A young girl full of life, energy and enthusiasm left behind a grieving mother who will forever cherish the crown and the simple act of kindness shown by a committed member of the parish youth group who showed the depth of her faith — and her deep connection with one of her volleyball players.
“[Mary] was full of energy and she was always smiling at volleyball,” Kayla recalled.
After staying out late with friends after the game, Kayla was awakened by her mother Christine, who teaches at Most Holy Redeemer, and had Mary in her musical group, the Singing Angels. She had seen a posting on Facebook by Mary’s older brother Will, who is friends with Kayla.
Though groggy, Kayla needed very little time to figure out what she wanted to do — needed to do.
“Soon after I told her, she said, ‘I think I’m going to give her my crown.’” Christine said. “I said, ‘I think you should really think about that.’”
But, in Kayla’s mind, the matter was settled. She grabbed the crown and rode over to the Hulgan house with her mom at noon for the prayer service and rosary. And, once there, she summoned the courage to approach the grief-stricken mother.
“We were all going through [a line] just giving them [family members] hugs,” Kayla said. “And, I gave [Doreen] the crown and I said that I think Mary would deserve this. And, she said, ‘Are you sure you don’t need this anymore?’ And, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m positive.’ And, she’s like, ‘Can you tell her dad when he comes that you’re giving this to me, because she was always his little princess. [Doreen] said that Mary, when she heard I was homecoming queen, was just saying, ‘Oh, I want to be that one day.’ It just made me really glad that I was giving that to her.”
The room fell quiet for a brief moment, and all eyes went to Kayla when she presented the crown to Doreen. Most of the people at the house that day also were at the game, and had seen Kayla wearing her crown.
One week later, the crown was positioned on top of a display of pictures of Mary at her wake. Doreen choked up when she recalled Kayla’s simple gesture.
“It was so sweet of Kayla,” said Doreen, who also has two sons, Will, a ninth-grader at Tri-City United, and Jack, a third-grader at Most Holy Redeemer.
“The [parish] youth group came out, and there were so many people, they wouldn’t fit in the house. So, we put up a tent in the yard. It was raining. Everyone was coming through the kitchen, and Kayla gave it [crown] to me. I told her, [Mary] has always been her daddy’s little princess. And, it was just so sweet, so sweet.”
Doreen moved here with her husband in November 2010 from Phoenix to start a new life as farmers. The two participated in a Minnesota-based program called Farm Beginnings to introduce them to agricultural life, and they started making a go of it.
But, more than the country air, it was the people of the parish and community that won the hearts of this transplanted family — and helped Doreen rediscover her faith.
“I want to tell you something. It took me moving to Montgomery to finally feel like I’m a member of my own Church,” Doreen said. “I don’t feel anything but love and appreciation for Montgomery.”
The feeling is very mutual. Michelle Rynda, Mary’s homeroom teacher whose in-laws are scattered throughout the area, said Mary was beloved by her students, and she will be forever cherished by her classmates.
“She was a very bubbly, wonderful girl,” Rynda said. “That light will be there in spirit, but she just won’t be there in body.
“Before we leave for the day, instead of praying by our own desks, we all come together as a class and we pray by her desk with our hands on her desk. So, she is with us during the prayer. And, every time they come into the room, they touch her desk. She is with us.”
Father George Grafsky, a police chaplain who was at the scene of the accident and once was the pastor of Most Holy Redeemer, wants Catholics to know what a significant show of faith and humanity was on display that sad Saturday afternoon, when a teenage girl brought a tiny ray of love and hope to a yard full of mourning people.
“Many other [homecoming] queens maybe might have thought of doing it, but how many would have done it — give up their crown?” said Father Grafsky, who now is pastor of St. Anne in Le Sueur. “We hear a lot [of negative things] about kids, and we need to hear good news.
“People say, ‘Where was God?’ Well, he was certainly there because he made sure the people that needed to be there were there. . . . When they [the cars] hit, one caught on fire. One of the policemen who came, who is also a member of this church, got there and the cars were [locked] together. One of the other officers said, ‘The car is catching the other car on fire.’ So, with his squad car, [this officer] came and pushed the other car away from the fire, so that’s why the one person survived.”
Most Holy Redeemer principal Mindy Reeder said cards and emails have been pouring in from other Catholic schools in the archdiocese. As someone with more than a decade of work in Catholic education, she knows what an impact Catholic schools can have, when children and teachers are inspired by faith.
“I’ve been working in Catholic schools for a long time,” she said. “The biggest thing that I see and that’s expressed often within a Catholic school is we’re all part of a family in Christ. And, our actions really show that, especially in times of need.”
Like so many others, Reeder marveled at the simple gesture performed by one of her former students.
“I just think it’s a beautiful gift,” she said. “We call Mary our angel now. She’s crowned in heaven with Jesus, and we have that crown here to be symbolic of that.”
Note: Money is being collected to help the family pay for funeral and other expenses. Those who wish to donate can visit http://www.mosthrs.org.