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Painting a memory: Meet the Augie student creating a memorial mural for a former teacher

For more than 20 years, Kristal “Kris” Hays was an RIMSD teacher. After she passed away from cancer, her friends asked a local student to paint a mural in her honor.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill — Art is meant to be moving, but one of Rock Island's newest memorials is extra special to those who pass it by. 

For weeks, Augustana College senior Aykeem Spivey has been hard at work at the Rock Island Center for Math and Science. After his own classes are complete, he spends hours each night painting a mural to honor one of the center's former teachers. 

It's all in memory of Kristal “Kris” Hays. 

Born in Maquoketa, Hays lived in DeWitt and worked for the Rock Island-Milan School District for more than 20 years. She was an avid reader known for instilling that passion for books in her fourth grade students. 

Tragically, Hays passed away in November 2022 after a two year-long battle with cancer. Throughout her fight, her teaching partners say Hays would still come to school, ready to teach, even amid chemo treatments. 

After Hays died, a group of her teaching partners and friends created a committee to honor her legacy. They say she was known to sit in the hallway outside of her classroom and talk about how she wished there were newer, more colorful photos to go on the walls for the students. 

That's how the group came up with the idea to contact the Augustana College art department. They asked if a student would be willing to create a mural to honor Hays. Just a few minutes after the department put out the call for help, Aykeem Spivey responded. 

Spivey never met Hays during their mutual time in Rock Island. But he says he felt drawn to the project; he felt as though he could do it justice and create a mural worthy of her memorial. 

Best of all? Spivey said he would put in all the work for free. 

Together, he and the committee came up with an idea of what the mural should incorporate. It features an outdoor scene with animals and butterflies, along with two people reading, and it's on the wall right outside of the classroom Hays taught in. 

As he's worked, Spivey has watched the students of the Math and Science Center see his own work unfold before their eyes. 

Now, he's hoping to have the mural finished in the next few weeks. 

News 8 had the opportunity to chat with Spivey — live — as he worked on his mural. You can watch the entirety of those interviews in the video at the top of this page. 

And when it comes to next steps, the crew at the center aren't done with just the mural. 

This past spring, staff and students at the school created and sold purple t-shirts with a butterfly on them. The money from those sales will help buy a plaque to honor Hays.

The shirt design comes from the center's butterfly garden. It was started by another teacher who passed away from cancer about 10 years ago. When that educator died, it was Hays who stepped up to keep the butterfly garden going. Now that she's also passed, the teachers in her memorial committee say they plan on keeping up with it. 

Also this spring, the school plans on planting a tree for Hays and buying a butterfly chair to sit on the center's grounds for anyone to enjoy. 

Finally, two fourth grade students will be chosen each year to be Hays Heroes. Each year's recipients must demonstrate kindness, leadership and a love for reading. The winners' names will be added to the memorial mural and they'll each be given a gift card to Hays's favorite shop (Whitey's) along with a copy of her favorite book, Where The Red Fern Grows

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