By: Travis Naughton
On the evening of February 24, Southern Boone lost one of its most beloved residents, Crystal Branch. Crystal was an exemplary educator, a successful coach, a respected colleague, a wise mentor, a trustworthy leader, a loyal friend, and a loving daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, and grandparent. To the countless people who loved and knew Crystal, the significance of her life and her passing cannot be overstated.

In my opinion, no one has had a greater impact on our community than Crystal Branch. As a coach and an educator, Coach Branch was a positive influence in the lives of thousands of young people over the course of her decades-long career at Southern Boone County School District. Her dedication to her students was obvious to everyone who knew her. From teaching P.E. in primary school to coaching softball, track, and cross-country in high school, Coach Branch touched the lives of Southern Boone students for a quarter-century. Even after she retired in 2020, Coach Branch continued to attend virtually every youth sporting event, musical, play, and concert that she could.

Although she had taught all three of my children in P.E., I didn’t really get to know Crystal until I started substitute teaching at the primary school where we would work together for nearly a decade. During that time, we became good friends. Weeks prior to the start of her last year of teaching, I had the great pleasure of being hired as the school’s full-time music teacher.

As a “new employee” I was required to have a veteran teacher act as my mentor to guide me through my first year of teaching, and Crystal graciously agreed to be my mentor. I survived that year because of Crystal’s patience, wisdom, and sense of humor. I will forever be grateful to her for taking on the added responsibility of helping me when she easily could have declined in order to focus on enjoying her final year of teaching. She was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.

The first time I saw Crystal after she announced that she had cancer, I started to extend my arms for an embrace but stopped when I remembered she wasn’t overly fond of hugging. To my surprise she said, “I’ll let you hug me, just this one time,” with a warm smile on her face. I thought to myself that she must have been feeling pretty down if she let me hug her. But as I replayed that moment in my mind this afternoon, I realized that Crystal wasn’t the one who needed a hug that day. I needed one, and she knew it.

That’s the kind of friend Crystal Branch was. That’s the kind of person she was. She was the kind of person who always put others’ needs before her own. She was the kind of person who invited people like me into her life and into her home and into her heart. She was the kind of person who made me want to be a better teacher, friend, and human being. She was the best of us, and I’m going to miss her terribly.

Rest in peace, Coach Branch. Thank you for everything you did for me and for this community. Your spirit will be felt here forever. May it fly high like a Southern Boone Eagle.