Cheyenne’s star continues to shine on those she knew
“It was always my philosophy and I’d like it to be yours too, That as you give unto the world, the world will give back to you.”
Ruth Ann Mahaffey – Excerpt from Poem Letter to Heaven read at Cheyenne’s funeral
By Janet Rail
Cheyenne Henderson may have only finished fifth grade but the impact she had on the lives of others was great.
An early morning fire in Finger Oct. 29 claimed the life of Cheyenne and Michael Steve Kennedy at the Kennedy’s home while the young girl was at the residence for a sleepover.
From an early beginning, Cheyenne was mature beyond her years. Her mother Chandra shared countless examples of her child’s kindness toward her fellow man and animals alike.
“Cheyenne was a caregiver and never waited to be asked to do something. She stuck up for other kids and was never into popularity. She catered to the underdogs,” said Chandra.
She gave so generously to others. If a friend, someone or her sister was upset, she would find something, wrap it up and give it just to try to cheer them up.
“She touched so many lives, that the day she died, we got calls as far away as England, Australia and France. Calls, visits and acts of kindness were unbelievable. We had not been home from the hospital thirty minutes when people started coming over,” said Chandra.
“I didn’t think our life mattered. During the past five years, we haven’t had over 50 people in our home. The school and the entire community have been wonderful,” said Chandra.
Cheyenne never said a bad word about anybody, in fact; she stuck up for other kids. Many classmates told the family stories of how Cheyenne took up for them when they were being bullied at school and how she was often one of the first to welcome the new kids at school.
“I could only say that Cheyenne was one of the sweetest and kindest kids ever to come to Adamsville Elementary. She was a friend to all,” said her teacher Sherrie Wilson.
When speaking to a couple of her fellow classmates they stated: “She was always nice,” said Parker Herndon. “Cheyenne was always sticking up for us at school,” said Nolan Bryant.
This child was not immune to the challenges in life. At the young age of three, she carefully watched the hospice staff as they cared for her grandfather and let them know if they made him even flinch as she was very protective of her family, even then.
Not long after that her father Jim had a stroke at the age of 40 which left him without the ability to speak and loss of memory. Both Cheyenne while in kindergarten and her sister Samantha in pre-school, worked with their father and helped teach him to speak again.
The parents met in Florida and moved between Ohio and Florida a few times due to family illnesses and the death of Cheyenne’s grandfather.
Her grandmother remarried and relocated to the Stantonville area which is why the family followed and moved to Stantonville a year later.
Cheyenne was a sixth grader at Adamsville Elementary where she attended since the second grade. After her dads recovery, he taught her to hunt. “We taught her to first try to shoot deer in the lense of her camera. If she could shoot with the camera, she could shoot with her gun. She used only a camera for one full season. At eight, she got her first gun, a Youth 410 and shot her first buck. “She knew we didn’t shoot just to shoot, we only shot what we were going to eat,” said Jim.
She had such a kind heart that animals found her. She happened upon a turtle with a broken leg which they named survivor and put an S on its shell. When faced with buying a toy, she purchased a bug catcher and filled it with wolf spiders.
There is a praying mantis on the porch, a luna moth in her bedroom and empty locus shells carefully collected. “She had an obsession with bugs,” said Chandra.
While visiting a wolf sanctuary in Saltillo, TN, there was a wolf that was especially hard to handle who laid his head down and not only allowed Cheyenne to pet him, but whined when she walked away.
Teresa and Wayne Gibens shared a story of their first encounter with Cheyenne at a horse show. “Jackson is a pretty tall horse and I saw this kid come up to our horse, pulls a candy bar out of her pocket and reached up to give the horse the candy stating, “Don’t worry its OK, its free.”
“It didn’t matter what you were doing, she wanted to join in and help. She touched every person she was in contact with,” said Wayne.
She paid attention to the details, from her days playing football for the Green Gators, to cheerleading, to the minute details for a class project – everything mattered to her. Just a week before she died she was working on a poster for 4-H.
Her interests were varied as she shared her father’s love of motorcycles, loved to ride horses or a 4-wheeler.
Her favorite movie was Pay It Forward, which she and her mother watched every time it was on. Her mother discovered she was writing poetry and short stories. “Through her death, I found out things I did not know about my child,” Chandra said.
As Cheyenne was always aware of her surroundings, her family thinks she would likely share something like this: Don’t judge the person next to you because we don’t know what they are going through. To keep a smile on your face as it goes a long way and can make them smile.
In the end, only kindness matters.
That is what Cheyenne would do and others believed it so much, they named a star after her.