FAIRFIELD, Iowa — Nohema Graber’s enthusiasm and positive attitude left an impact in the town of Fairfield. It lives on not just through her students, but through her church community and everyone who has a story to share about her.
Those stories filled the air of the high school’s auditorium Tuesday night, as the town gathered to remember Graber’s shining spirit.
Fairfield remains emotionally shattered after Graber’s murder. The high school Spanish teacher was found dead last week in a local park where she routinely took walks. Two of Graber’s students have been charged with murder in her death.
Graber’s memorial service Tuesday night became a place to collectively heal from the shock.
“All of us I know have come here this evening with hearts that are sad and broken,” said Nick Adam, a pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fairfield. “Nohema’s tragic death this past week has become a cloud of darkness in our community and in our lives.”
Mourners like Elizabeth Goytia tried to remember Graber’s light and how it guided so many in the community. “There are no words. It’s hard to understand,” said Goytia, a friend of Graber’s. “We know Nohema. We know how sad and how bad this feels.”
Nohema’s son Christian could not find the words, so he read from his mother’s journal instead. “What is a better positive attitude than a smile? I will smile to everybody I’ll encounter in this building,” Christian read.
Graber was a mentor to hundreds of kids during her nine years teaching in Fairfield. Many of her former students were on hand Tuesday night sharing what made Graber so special. “I know there are a lot of alumni who live out of town now who wish that they could be here,” said Francesca Greco, a former student of Graber’s.
Former students say Graber was there for them, even long after graduation. “While I went halfway around the world, she asked my dad for my dorm address in South Korea and sent me a letter to let me know she was proud of me,” said Lorena Hucke, a former student.
Although Graber is gone, those who knew her pledged not to let her positive light go out. “Be peaceful, loving and kind to one another,” said Goytia.
The people of Fairfield are supporting the family financially as well as emotionally. A GoFundMe page for the family has raised more than $43,000 so far.
Graber will be officially laid to rest during a private ceremony at a later date.