SEDGWICK, Kan. -- In a small building next to the track behind Sedgwick High School, they breathed life into hundreds of balloons.
Students, friends, and family of Steven Shepherd wanted to honor him in a special way Thursday night.
"He's so important to everybody in this town that we all wanted to come together," said Michelle Freeman, who helped organize Thursday's memorial.
The track is where Mr. Shepherd made such a mark on so many young people. He served 38 years as a coach and a teacher at Sedgwick High School.
He had stayed late at the track to help some young athletes Friday when he suddenly collapsed in front of them. A student jumped in to help give CPR.
"It was hard seeing him like that," student Nate Degraffenreid said.
Mr. Shepherd, 61, died the next day of an apparent heart attack. He left behind a tremendous legacy.
"He's everybody's hero," said Tamara Roberts, who also helped organized Thursday's memorial.
As each person received a balloon Thursday night at the track, they wrote a message to their hero.
"I wrote, 'Thank you, Mr. Shepherd,'" said Lance Davis, one of Mr. Shepherd's former students.
The words flowed easily for Davis and others because Mr. Shepherd left them with so many memories.
"I will remember his laugh. His laugh is something I will never forget," Davis said. "He got tickled about anything."
"He had a nickname for everyone and every time you walked into the classroom he used it," former student Amy Mosher said.
They say what made Mr. Shepherd so special is that he lived up to his real name. He went the extra mile for anyone and everyone.
"He was a true Shepherd. If someone was turning away from the flock, he would go after them, find them something they were great at, and encourage them to belong again," Freeman said.
Now, hundreds if not thousands are a part of Mr. Shepherd's flock.
More than 500 of them stood side-by-side Thursday night. With their balloons in hand, they were determined to make sure his memory soars into the future.
"It's a bittersweet moment for all of us knowing that he's up there swinging his golf club and spending time with his wife and everyone we have lost here in Sedgwick," Degraffenreid said. "He was just a great person and a great guy. We are always going to miss him."