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‘Light and hope:’ Madeira murals dedicated to late principal Chris Flanagan

In World
May 06, 2024

Exactly one year ago Friday, Madeira schools were closed. The elementary school principal, Chris Flanagan, had died, suddenly leaving behind his wife, four children and hundreds of grieving students.

“He was the all-in principal,” Superintendent Kenji Matsudo said. “He was the one throwing water balloons off the roof.”

But this Friday was different. Not because it was “Walk to School” day and strollers and pattering feet filled the sidewalks of the suburban community outside Cincinnati. There was something special happening at the high school.

The marching band’s horns and drums greeted the high schoolers as they crowded into the auditorium. They got high-fives and took selfies with the Reds mascots, Gapper and Rosie Red.

The Reds and PNC Bank had chosen Maderia to receive three murals as part of an ongoing partnership with mural artist Brent Billingsley. Billingsley and his team have now gone into eight schools to work directly with students to create murals that reflect those communities.

Most of the 450 or so Madeira High School students wore shirts they created with Billingsley’s team. In the crowd were Emma and Molly Flanagan, Chris Flanagan’s daughters, as well as his wife.

Principal David Kennedy rallied the kids from the foot of the stage and explained that Billingsley usually only does one mural for a district, but Kennedy fought to get three: one for the elementary school, one for the middle school and one for the high school.

“We get through things together,” Kennedy said.

The murals focused on growth and hope. The first showed third grader Virginia Yankie, daughter of Jessica and Paul Yankie, holding a seedling in her hands. Virginia couldn’t take her eyes off the bright painting and smiled wide as the crowd of high schoolers cheered for her. The second showed two middle schoolers tending to a waist-high sapling.

The third showed a group of high schoolers gathered under a fully grown tree, and in the center, were Emma and Molly.

“How could you not be moved?” PNC President Warren Weber asked afterward.

Weber said that his best days as a banker, the ones he’ll remember, don’t have anything to do with banking. He said Madeira had a really hard year and he hoped this would help with the healing.

The mural took about four weeks to complete and about two dozen students helped Billingsley and his team with the painting. Emma and Molly helped, too.

“PNC Bank and the Reds don’t send us to school to create murals,” Billingsley said. “PNC Bank and the Reds send us to schools to build relationships.”

He said the work also create smiles and helps people heal from things they didn’t even know were hurting them.

“You can tell by the energy, you can by the smiles, the tears, we just did something here,” the artist said.

After the unveiling, the students crowded on stage and into the front rows for a big group picture before heading back to class. Most seemed genuinely excited.

After the kids were gone, Danielle Flanagan made her way on stage and locked eyes with her daughters’ portraits.

Danielle said the past year has been hard, but the community of Madeira has been her family and helped her and her children get through it.

“Chris loved people,” she said. “He loved making sure they felt loved, known and seen. He loved what he did every day.”

Billingsley, his team and students had created a fourth mural. This one wasn’t for public display. Behind the stage, Danielle got to see the portrait of her late husband for the first time. The work featured dozens of smaller images of him working with students.

“The theme of light and hope,” Danielle said. “It’s what gets us through each day.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Murals dedicated to late Madeira school Principal Chris Flanagan

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