MONTICELLO — When she attended Monticello Middle School, Allyson Garrett would always smile when Andrew Bryant raised his hand in class.
Her friend was in a wheelchair as he battled muscular dystrophy, a battle he ultimately he lost in 2011, but he was often the funniest kid in the room, she said.
“I was giggling in the back,” said Garrett, a Monticello High grad who will soon earn her teaching degree from Illinois State University.
She would chuckle because she knew what was about to happen.
Bryant’s M.O. was feigning a question for his instructors, then launching into a story that only he could tell, she said.
“Teachers would ask, ‘Andrew, is this a question or a story?’ And he would say something like, ‘Well, it’s kind of a question, but there’s a story, too,” said Garrett, the daughter of two teachers who was influenced by Bryant to go into the field of special education.
Another classmate, Tyler Jones, helped spearhead Saturday’s Andrew Bryant Day with the hope it would raise awareness for muscular dystrophy and give an opportunity to discuss how kids handle traumatic events.
Jones said the loss hit him harder the last two years than when it happened eight years ago.
“Mrs. Bryant (Andrew’s mother) asked me a couple of years ago how classmates handle this kind of loss. That was a perspective-shifting question for me,” said Jones, now a student at North Central College.
“I knew I had to do something,” he added.
So he started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1,000 to bankroll two years’ worth of scholarship funds for Monticello students, and to strengthen discussion among youth who experience loss.
He’s doing it all for Bryant, one of his best friends in middle school.
“There was something about Andrew. He was always happy, always smiling,” Jones said.
He remembers a game they would play that revolved around Bryant’s affinity for war games. As Bryant’s muscle mass decreased, he went from a walker to a manual wheelchair to an electric one. He also could not wear shoes due to increased arching of his feet, so he would carry extra pairs of socks in his wheelchair.
“I would throw his socks like a grenade, and he would make an explosion sound,” Jones said. “And teachers would give us that look.”
Jones also gave a TEDx Talk on the subject, which will be shown to high school students on Tuesday and be available online in the future.
Garrett said she would be paired with Bryant for class projects and field trips, which not only fostered a strong friendship but influenced her career tract. She wanted to get to know more Andrew Bryants.
“He knew how hard his life was, but he never gave up. He fought the whole way,” she said. “He showed that it is possible to live life no matter the circumstances.”