GREENFIELD — Sarah Overby hated wearing shoes.
She’d walk the halls of Greenfield-Central High School barefoot, her toes flat against the tile, never giving it a second thought. Her friends say it’s how she felt most comfortable, as if she couldn’t bear to have anything come between her and the world around her — not even the soles of her sneakers.
She was quirky, they say, a bit of a hippy even. But at the same time, she was sensible and grounded — she had a plan for every idea others might have considered far-fetched.
She dreamed of traveling the globe, of meeting new people and learning from them, learning about them. And she was willing to work hard, make her own way. Nothing could stand between her and the world.
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She had such a presence, even at her young age, they say. Now, they’re trying to deal with a sense of shock that has settled over them at her loss.
Overby, a 17-year-old Greenfield native, died in a car crash early Tuesday on the county’s north side. She and three friends — who survived and are still recovering at area hospitals — were driving toward Greenfield when the driver missed a curve in the roadway and struck a utility pole. Overby died at the scene.
Wednesday, before heading to their first class of the morning, hundreds of Greenfield-Central students gathered outside the school for a brief vigil in Overby’s honor. Wearing shades of yellow and light blue — Overby’s favorite colors — they marched into school together in near silence, many holding hands, some in tears.
Though Overby was a junior at the high school, she was set to graduate this spring with the senior class. She was a bright student who worked hard to earn enough credits to reach that teenage milestone a year ahead of schedule.
Choir director Paul Grizzard remembers the day midway through this school year when Overby came bounding into his classroom, a bright smile on her face, and proclaimed she was officially a senior. She was so proud of herself for having achieved that goal.
After graduating, Overby wanted to travel, friend Josh Taeger said. She planned to visit Europe and South Africa and Asia. She planned on embedding herself in different cultures and working until she had enough money to move on to the next place.
She talked about those dreams with her friends and teachers often, never once expressing the fear of the future many her age feel. She couldn’t wait.
Keeping her in school another year “was like keeping a bird locked in cage,” Taeger said.
“She wanted to fly.”
Once the students were inside Wednesday, and most had settled into their classrooms, Principal Steve Bryant asked over the PA system for a moment of silence in Overby’s memory. The halls fell quiet; even the few stragglers still on their way to class stopped in their tracks to stand for a minute in the silence.
“She handled every situation with a smile,” Bryant said, his voice booming through the school.
Overby was drawn to the arts. She was heavily involved in the school’s choir and drama departments, and she took extra English classes to practice her creative writing. She often encouraged her friends and classmates to get involved as well, to turn to music, the stage, the page to express themselves as she did.
“She was a leader, and she led by example,” Grizzard said. “She wanted to be a positive influence on everyone around her.”
Her classmates recognized that and often turned to Overby for advice, English teacher Mindy Weaver-Flask said.
She taught the creative writing class Overby enrolled in at Greenfield-Central. Overby loved to listen to others’ writing as much as she loved to put pen to paper herself, and she had an uncanny ability of empathizing with others as they worked to put their feelings into words.
Overby never missed a chance to help her classmates better themselves, Weaver-Flask said. She was blunt — but in the kindest, most beautiful way. And her classmates loved her for it, seeking her out to edit their pieces before they handed an assignment in, she said.
She’d happily settle in next to them, chat and scribble notes in the margins, Weaver-Flask said.
But first, she always — always — kicked off her shoes.
“Sarah loved, and she loved big,” Weaver-Flask said. “She had a tender heart, and we don’t live in a world with enough of that anymore. That spirit is something I know I’m taking with me.”