Susan Keener wasn’t so worried about her own health when Rutherford County resumed in-person schooling. Her daughters say she was far more concerned about her special education students who’d gone months without being in class. Then after a few weeks back, she fell ill with COVID-19.
The photo Keener’s daughters have been posting everywhere since her death Oct. 14 shows their mom smiling ear to ear, one hand to the sky, posing in front of Cinderella’s castle.
“It was her first trip to Disney,” Autumn Raffaele says. “Who doesn’t love Disney?”
Autumn Raffaele, who is a dental assistant and mother of four, took her mom and kids to Disney World last year.
Keener wasn’t just there to help as grandma. She loved Pixar movies, and she couldn’t help but think of her special needs student obsessed with Mickey Mouse.
“So every chance she got while we were there, she took a picture with Mickey,” Raffaele says. “She sent a video to his mom when she got to meet Mickey for Mickey to blow him a kiss and say hello.”
Raffaele says her mother developed a devotion to her pre-k students as a teaching aide at Walter Hill Elementary in Murfreesboro, where she worked for 15 years. Some of those students were non-verbal or have behavioral difficulties. But she had the gift and patience to work with them and their parents.
Some who went on to graduate from high school attended Keener’s funeral over the weekend.
“I don’t know that she knew how many of those children would still remember her or that she affected them or was that special teacher to them,” Raffaele says.
She had made education a priority in her own family as well. After weeks in the hospital, when Keener could barely communicate on a ventilator, she wanted to get updates on her younger daughter.
Allison Keener had resumed college at Middle Tennessee State University after several years off.
“She definitely wanted me to go back eventually,” she says.
Allison now plans to finish her degree in social work by May.
“I think the biggest thing for me is her not being able to see me graduate college,” Allison says. “She’s just been very proud of how I’ve done. I’ve made straight A’s the whole time.”
A painful season is ahead, with holidays, another trip to Disney World they had planned, and their mother’s birthday in May. Susan Keener would have been 54.