Julie Hightower tightly clutched the stuffed cow - her husband's name tag hanging around its neck - as she watched the children dance about.
Hightower was the honorary guest of the mini-Relay for Life event at Rock Spring Elementary School on Friday, a preface to the Ninth Annual Henry County Relay for Life. Her husband, Mike Hightower, was principal at the newly opened school until he fell ill last fall. He died in February of cancer.
"He and I did the Relay every year since 2001," said Julie Hightower. "This will be the first year, since, that we have not done it together."
Julie Hightower, who teaches third-grade at Hickory Flat Elementary School, said she has grown familiar with the scene - adults and children walking hand-in-hand to raise money for the American Cancer Society and cancer research.
"I think it's given the children hope that one day we'll see a cure," she said. "It's the teachable moment and that's what we're here for. We walked to remember the people that we've lost, and he walked to celebrate the people who have won the battle. He walked to raise money to find a cure."
During the school's mini-Relay, she embraced several students she has come to know over the years. Two of them were 10-year-old Brady Cook and 8-year-old Madison Queen.
Cook is currently in treatment for a brain tumor. Queen is a cancer survivor, about a year into remission.
According to her mother, Tina Queen, doctors found a Wilms Tumor growing on one of her kidneys about two years ago and recommended treatment for her.
"I felt bad," Madison Queen said.
Her mother said treatments increasingly made Madison tired and weak throughout the ordeal, requiring her to be home-schooled for a year.
"It was very, very hard, but I knew I had to be strong for her," said Tina Queen.
This is Madison's first full year back at school.
In a show of admiration and remembrance of Mike Hightower, Rock Spring is creating an outdoor classroom called Hightower's Habitat. The classroom, school officials said, will be a testament to Hightower's love and passion for nature and agriculture.
According to Rock Spring Interim Assistant Principal Brittany Ware, while students and faculty were somber in their tribute to Hightower, they were proud to learn their first Relay fund-raising efforts surpassed their $10,000 goal at more than $11,500.
"The students have put forth a tremendous effort to help raise money to fight cancer in honor of Mr. Hightower and other friends and family," Ware said.
Rock Spring has a team of 82 members attending this year's Henry County Relay for Life event, held at Woodland High School in Stockbridge. The event began Friday at 7 p.m., and will conclude today at 7 a.m.
Relay organizers said they hoped to raise $455,000 this year. Last year, organizers surpassed their goal of $450,000 by raising more than $475,000.
On the net:
Henry County Relay for Life: www.relayforlife.org/henryga