Saluki carries memory of friend to SIU

By Aaron Graff, @Aarongraff_DE

The SIU volleyball team started training in June, giving one player little time to mourn her friend’s death.

Freshman libero/defensive specialist Gabriella Shepherd became friends with Madison Angus in Sue Wunderlich’s fourth grade class at Pioneer Path Elementary School in Channahon.

Angus was 18 when she died in a single-car accident May 26.

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“[Angus] helped me come to SIU when I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Shepherd said. “She was like, ‘You can do it, you’re good at what you do and I have faith in you.’”

Wunderlich said she had Shepherd and Haley McCabe, 18, now studying speech pathology at University of Missouri, as third grade students before she taught them in fourth grade the next year when Angus moved into the school district.

“I said ‘I want you to be welcoming towards Madison,’” Wunderlich said. “At that point they became friends and kept friends all through the grade school years and the high school years.”

Shepherd said at first she and McCabe resisted being friends with Angus. It was weird to them how mature Angus was for her age, she said, But Angus’ goodness won them over. That is when they nicknamed their group, the “Wunderlich Girls.” Now, Madison’s mother, Eileen Angus, 46, of Channahon, considers Shepherd family.

McCabe and Shepherd spent the first part of their summer doing whatever they could to help the Angus family. They made t-shirts and bracelets to help raise funds to cover funeral costs.

“[Shepherd] had to leave summer early to go train for volleyball,” McCabe said. “I talked to her the first few weeks while she was at Carbondale, and she was like ‘I just want to be home.’ She was really homesick because it was a really hard transformation when everyone at home was mourning over Madison and she couldn’t be there.”

Shepherd helped set up a candlelight vigil at Minooka Community High School for Angus. Shepherd said she was surprised how many people showed up, and many people shared touching stories about Angus.

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“It was really a beautiful ceremony,” Shepherd said. “So many people had so many things to say about Madison because she truly was an amazing girl inside and out. We could’ve been there for hours, we actually had to cut it short because it was getting late.”

Wunderlich said the loss hit her hard, but she, McCabe and Shepherd helped one another get through it.

“I was leaning as much on them as they were leaning on me,” Wunderlich said. “They’re such good, strong girls, beautiful women who are determined and have good values and morals.”

Shepherd said she is doing better because she thinks of Madison every time she is struggling in volleyball. She recently wrote Madison’s initials on her shoes so she can look down for motivation.

“I just think of her because I know she’s up there watching down on me and all of our other friends,” Shepherd said. “We’re so lucky to have an angel like her up there. She pushes me even when she’s not even here.”

Eileen said Madison was always fundraising for different causes, cheering on other students in extracurricular activities and committing every small act of kindness she could.

Madison cleaned out her locker and left a bag of candy for the next student to use it. Eileen did not know that until after her death.

“You love your child, yourself, more than anything,” Angus said. “But when you feel their impact on others, who love your child as much as you do, that’s really what it’s all about. She made a big difference in just shy of 19 years.”

Madison planned to attend the University of Alabama this fall. Eileen said Madison and her father, Scott Angus, 48 of Channahon, were big college football fans. When Madison learned the history of Alabama football, she wanted to be a part of it.

“She applied the first day of [senior year of high] school, it was the only college she applied to,” Angus said. “I told her, ‘Mads, you have to apply to a few different places.’ She said ‘Mom, there’s only one place for me.’ And that was University of Alabama.”

Shepherd said after Angus was accepted into Alabama, it was all she would talk about for weeks.

Eileen said after her daughters death, Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bautley, sent the family a condolence letter and the university sent them Madison’s diploma, even though she never started school there.

Eileen said if she could have one more conversation with Madison, she would tell her how proud she is because her daughter always saw the best in people.

“Her favorite phrase was, ‘I met another new friend today, there’s so many wonderful people in this world.’”

The website www.remembermadison.com has been set up to honor Angus’ memory and accept donations for future fundraisers dedicated to her.

“She was amazing,” Shepherd said. “Honestly, to know Madison was a blessing. She was so sweet, she loved everybody, she just had a personality that just lit up a room. She would walk in and it would just shine.”

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected]on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

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