ELLSWORTH — A place of learning turned into a place of mourning Wednesday, as more than 500 friends, parents and teachers joined Corey Nuss’ family at Ellsworth High School to commemorate the 18-year-old who died in a car crash Jan. 2.
His sister Christy, 20, was driving the car. She was injured, but has returned home from the hospital.
The event was billed as a celebration. And despite the sobering presence of the coffin — topped with a smiling portrait of the tow-headed teen — speaker after speaker shared stories that drew laughter from the audience even as handfuls of tissues passed from row to row.
His friends and teachers described an all-around superstar student who had fun. Nuss was ranked at the top of the class and won awards in mathematics and art, but was equally remembered for a 10th-grade speech on how to cook a pickle using electricity, and a performance as the Cheshire Cat in a production of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Social studies teacher Joyce Whitmore described him as “a true Renaissance young man,” recalling ardent class discussions that often lasted long past the bell. “Corey leaves us with the reminder to live life to the fullest, so you will not have any regrets,” Whitmore said.
“He was one of those students who could go from group to group and stay friends with everyone,” Principal Lee Beal said. He spoke of Corey’s lively, argumentative spirit, pointing out that when he received a 99 on a calculus test last fall, he argued for and won that final point.
“I have never understood why things like this happen and perhaps it’s not my place to,” Beal told the assembly. “But with God’s help, we will get through this. I do know that we are all better for having had Corey as a part of our lives.”
Seven friends came up on stage, neatly dressed in chinos and button-down shirts, to share memories of Nuss that dated back more than a decade.
Jed Patterson described their second-grade angst at being split up onto separate T-ball teams, being reunited for a spirited but not entirely successful Little League, and Nuss copying off him in class — until he finally got glasses and could see the blackboard.
Scott Weirick recalled playing house with Christy Nuss about 16 years ago. Corey, a toddler at the time, was cast as the son in their games, until finally his elder sister and Weirick yielded to his persistent complaints and promoted him to family dog.
Weirick read one of Nuss’ college essays, which tells of being chased through a landscape littered with cigarette packages and chewing gum wrappers by a man representing death. Nuss slows to a walk so as not to miss what’s going on around him and the man catches up to him, as he would have anyway. “He liked me, I could tell,” Nuss wrote of his chat with Death. That, he informs the admissions office, demonstrates his philosophy: to relish each moment of the journey.
The Rev. Vesta Kowalski presided over the remembrance, and the Ellsworth High School show choir sang “Seasons of Love” and “Bridge O’er Troubled Water.” Kowalski read a note from Nuss’ parents, Marcel and Donna Lee Nuss, who attended the ceremony.
“Corey taught us to always look on the bright side of life and never to take it for granted,” she read. “The sound of his laughter will reverberate in our lives forever.”
The parents compared their son’s untimely death to the eerily beautiful destruction wreaked by the recent ice storm. “Just as the trees will survive, though incomplete,” their note said, “so will we.”