PETOSKEY — Spencer Tibbits’ birthday is Sept. 28.
It’s a special, yet emotional day for many past and current Petoskey High School students, as Tibbits passed away on his 17th birthday in 2014.
Although he’s been gone for six years, stories of his kindness, generosity and connection with many who were struggling carries on in the hallways at Petoskey High School through the Cheetos Club, which was inspired in Tibbits’ honor.
One story of Tibbits’ kindness which resonated with students was a time he consoled a struggling student simply by taking a bag of Cheetos from his backpack and telling the student, “nobody can be sad while eating Cheetos.”
The Cheetos Club, now in its fifth year of existence, honors Tibbits’ acts of kindness by planning to be kind.
“We found out Spencer made a huge difference by giving rather than taking,” said club founder and Petoskey High School physics teacher Lance Bailey. “He’s impacted me and he’s impacted these students, many of whom didn’t even know him.”
On a rainy Monday afternoon, which would have been Tibbits’ 23rd birthday, the Cheetos Club — along with the help of members from the Petoskey Garden Club and Petoskey Boy Scout Troop No. 5 — unveiled a newly renovated courtyard at the high school and dedicated the ceremony in his honor.
Tibbits’ father, Chris, and step-mother, Jill, cut the ceremonial ribbon to the renovated courtyard near Bailey’s science classroom, which took just over three weeks to complete.
“We decided the courtyard was our gift back to the school in Spencer’s honor,” Bailey said. “We have really big plans for the courtyard. It’s a place where you can go out, be yourself and connect with other people. We had learned that was what kindness was like with Spencer.”
The idea to renovate the courtyard came after Petoskey Area Garden Club’s Julie Ethington was walking down the hallway of the school last fall with two students.
“I glanced over and saw the courtyard and couldn’t help myself,” Ethington said. “I covered my eyes. The gardener in me was just offended with what I saw and the students said we just feel like nobody cares about it. I said well that’s not acceptable.”
Ethington said she and her club wanted to help, and then spoke to Petoskey High School principal Deidra Gamble.
Then the wheels began to take motion.
“I used to walk by there and thought ‘I’d have no idea where to begin to make a space like that,’” Gamble said. “If you saw the ‘before’ photos, there were lots of overgrown things and, sure enough, Julie reached out and said we’d love to help. I didn’t know where to begin, but then the magic began.”
Along with members of the garden club, Petoskey Boy Scout Troop No. 5, Dave Patterson, Dave Hoffman and Dave Meyer of Meyer Ace Hardware, the Cheetos Club took an area which used to be a eyesore and turned the courtyard into a peaceful, welcoming and tranquil area both staff and students can enjoy.
“It’s so nice to see,” Gamble said. “We’ve already had teachers and students out there, which is exciting to see. I know the staff truly appreciates it and we pass it everyday. Just passing by it everyday makes you smile. Just to see the life, growth and flowers out there… I know all the students probably get the same vibe.”
Bailey said the courtyard renovation and dedication was part of several goals members of the Cheetos Club set at the beginning of this school year.
“We had another tragic situation at the end of the school year last year, in which a student took their life and I remember meeting with the Cheetos kids and said, ‘What are we going to do?’” Bailey said. “It was just rough, they all said the goal for this year was plan to be kind to ourselves. Give ourselves liberty to be kind to ourselves and that’s one of the goals they feel like if they do, when the pandemic is over we’ll be able to do the things we were once able to do stronger and better.”
The group also wanted to give back to the school in any way they could. Bailey said with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, working on the courtyard was something they could still manage.
“It benefits this place and it benefits the community,” Bailey said. “They said they want to take care of teachers and we are going to love on our teachers this year in so many ways, and, lastly, they said let’s try to get together and have some fun.
“Shouldn’t we all do that right now?”
Senior Selena Conti, a senior at Petoskey High School and member of the club for the past two years said she wished she was able to meet Spencer because he was the person she is striving to be.
“High school isn’t always a positive experience for students, and there’s a lot of change. It’s hard,” Conti said. “One thing that’s made it easier for me is being in a club like this. Being a part of the Cheetos Club has been the biggest blessing of my life, it’s helped me realize my morals, values and all the amazing opportunities life has out there when you do good acts of kindness and not seek out recognition to do them.
“Being kind is one of the greatest services you can offer for those around you,” Conti said. “But it’s also the greatest service you can offer yourself. This club has brought so much light to my life.”
For more information regarding the Cheetos Club, visit www.cheetosclub.com or follow the group on Facebook @CheetosClub.