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'Our Wonder Woman' Friends, coworkers mourn South Carolina teacher who died of COVID-19

After a nearly month-long battle with COVID-19, Staci Blakely, a Lexington School District One teacher, has now passed away.

LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. — Outside of Carolina Springs Elementary School, a 'Wonder Woman' balloon swayed in the air Sunday in honor of Staci Blakely, a woman who wore no cape, but friends say was a superhero, destined to make a difference.

“She loved Wonder Woman, but she was our Wonder Woman," Brian Rhodes said. "She’s just a wonderful lady, wonderful lady.”

Rhodes says his daughter was a former third grade student of Blakely's and his son was assigned to her this year. 

RELATED: Lexington 3rd grade teacher dies of COVID-19

"She was the perfect fit…She’s just very encouraging, very loving, very welcoming, just a joy to be around," Rhodes said. "She always was positive, and when you came into her presence, you couldn’t help but smile. She was always smiling.”

According to Lexington School District One, Blakely had 28 years of teaching experience, starting as a second and third grade teacher at Virginia Park Elementary in Richland County before joining Lexington District One in 1999.

RELATED: 43 additional deaths from COVID-19; 2,538 new cases reported Sunday

Rhodes said he and his family prayed for weeks, hoping that Blakely would recover after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-November.

“My wife and I, as soon as we found out this morning, we both kind of had a crying moment because it hit us so hard," Rhodes said. "Nobody expected this."

In a statement, Lexington School District One Superintendent Greg Little called her death a "tragedy," adding that she was a "wonderful" and "warm" teacher who will be missed.

"It’s going to affect Carolina Springs for a long time and no doubt anyone who ever met her, came across her," Rhodes said. "She’s just one of those people who left one of those irreplaceable fingerprints in your life.”

Blakely's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Lexington County. 

District leaders say counselors will be available at school Monday for students grieving.

 

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