Whittier Elementary School honored a fallen friend while opening a new running track Friday morning.
Michael Salas, known affectionately to the students at "Mister Mike," was a custodian at Whittier for more than a decade. He died during the summer.
The students walked the first mile on the school's new track in memory of Salas.
Amy Gilpen, physical education teacher at Whittier, cut a ribbon, officially opening the track, with the help of several members of Salas' family. Present for the opening were Salas' mother, Sheryl Mather; father, Danny Mather; son, Brandon Salas; and aunts Rhonda Oates and LaRue Haywood.
The family members joined the children for the first few laps.
Sheryl Mather said she was very emotional when she arrived at the school Friday morning and thought she might not be able to participate in the walk. But she said the thought of the kids' smiling faces and their anticipation of the event persuaded her to walk with them.
"My heart has just flourished with love for what this school has done for my son," Sheryl Mather said.
She said Whittier students sometimes come up to her in stores and other places around town to tell her what her son meant to them.
Mather said children have told her how Salas would sometimes quietly help kids who didn't have money afford treats on "popcorn and pickle" days at the school.