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Class of 2013Ellen Reinecke

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Despite losses, North Mecklenburg senior stays upbeat

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  • Raising awareness

    Ellen Reinecke is a three-year member and current president of North Mecklenburg’s DECA club for marketing, management and entrepreneurship.

    One of the projects she organized through the club was a “flamingo flocking” initiative to raise awareness of sarcoma and funds for the Sarcoma Foundation of America.

    Students and staff members at the school paid money to “flock” teachers’ and administrators’ doors with laminated paper flamingoes, and the club sold “What the Flock?” T-shirts. It also promoted facts about sarcoma around the school.

    In two years, the club raised almost $1,200 for the foundation, club adviser Beth Lentz said.


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Fourth in a series

Ellen Reinecke has a tattoo on each of her wrists – “I love you” and signatures in her mother’s and father’s handwriting, copied from old birthday cards. She looks at them often.

Her older sister, Sara, has identical tattoos on her ankles.

Someone noticed the tattoos not long ago and asked Reinecke if her parents had been OK with her getting the ink. The 18-year-old smiled, nodded and said they were.

She didn’t mention that her parents both passed away two and three years ago. In fact, Reinecke rarely feels a need to mention that her parents are dead.

But when the subject comes up, she talks about her mother and father and their deaths with ease.

“I don’t ever want people to feel sorry for me,” Reinecke said. “I don’t want people to pity me.”

The North Mecklenburg High senior lost her mother, Amy, to sarcoma cancer in January of her ninth grade year in 2010. Her father, John, died in February 2011 after a heart attack.

Her teachers say Reinecke’s grades never slipped, and neither has her attitude.

Reinecke will graduate Wednesday as the school’s Student of the Year, varsity volleyball captain and DECA club president, and as an inspiration to both friends and teachers.

“She’s still the same person she was before everything else happened. She’s just ... a lot stronger,” said Tori Kratz, a fellow North Mecklenburg senior and one of Reinecke’s closest friends since sixth grade.

The support of her friends and teachers has been one of the keys to remaining positive, Reinecke said. So has the Pierce family – Alison and Chris and their children, Jessica and Gabe – who Reinecke lives with and who consider her their daughter and sister.

Alison Pierce was close friends with Reinecke’s mother. Reinecke, her family and family friends collectively decided it was best for her to live with the Pierces in Charlotte so she could stay close to her friends and high school. Having that stability was important at a time when so much in her life had changed, she said.

Reinecke said she also has a close relationship with her grandparents in Denver, N.C., and her uncle, who lives in Chapel Hill.

Reinecke said she’s most nervous about being apart from her friends, family and the Pierces – and her dog, Linus – when she goes to attend Virginia Tech in the fall, where she plans to study animal science in hopes of becoming a veterinarian.

Strong, responsible, inspiring and hilarious are all traits that Reinecke’s friends, teachers and principal use to describe her.

“You would never in a million years think that something so tragic happened to her, because she’s so positive,” said Reinecke’s volleyball coach, Tarrah Johnson. “We complain about the smallest things. And here she is, been to hell and back in my opinion, and then she still has a smile on her face, so excited.”

Reinecke’s best friend and fellow North Mecklenburg senior Elizabeth Johnston said Reinecke may send her a text message once every couple months saying she’s having a bad day and missing her parents. But more often, Johnston said, Reinecke is the one offering support.

Even the day after her mother died, Reinecke was encouraging her friends to attend the school’s basketball game against rival Hopewell, Johnston said. She didn’t want them to miss out on anything on her account.

“I always think about, I’m supposed to be there for her,” Johnston said. “But it’s not that way. She’s always there for me for everything. Any little problem that I have, she makes it her priority.”

Reinecke says she has it “easy compared to a lot of people.” So she stays positive.

“What’s the point of being so negative about it? It’s not going to help me at all,” Reinecke said. “I do still have days where I just mope around. But if I’m mopey about it all the time that’s not going to help me at all.”

Ellis: 704-358-5298
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