SILVER SPRINGS -- Karen Hatcher would have enjoyed the service if she were there. She would probably have hummed -- like she was known to do when she was happy -- with Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" blasting over the speaker.
She would have been pleased to hear the students of Silver Stage Middle School recite the Pledge of Allegiance, then watch them stand respectfully during the National Anthem.
"When Sept. 11 happened, Karen gathered the school together and taught them about patriotism," Principal Melinda Johnson said. "This is a tribute to her."
But Hatcher wasn't there. She was killed Monday when the truck she was riding in was struck by a tire which broke free from a tanker truck traveling in the opposite direction on Interstate 80. She was 41.
Nearly 1,000 friends and family members packed the school's gymnasium Friday morning for a tribute to Hatcher, whose influence reverberated beyond the walls of Silver Stage where her daughter Jolene attends the eighth grade.
"I knew my sister was awesome," said Mikey Sinclair. "I didn't know how awesome. It's amazing to see all of these people and their support."
Hatcher worked at the middle school as a teacher's aide for nearly 10 years, working also with drama students, wrestlers and the basketball team.
"It wasn't fair that she had to leave," said Tarayn Baca, 13. "She made a big impact on so many people in the school and changed so many lives."
Those who knew her said she would not want her funeral to be a sad affair but one of rejoicing. Although inevitably solemn -- the silence broken at times with audible sobs -- the service also seemed somewhat like a school pep rally at other times.
The service concluded with the release hundreds of teal and white -- the school colors -- balloons while everyone shouted in unison, "Thank you, Mrs. Hatcher."
Throughout the service, her favorite songs, including "Red River Valley," were played.
"We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile," the song played. "For you take with you all of the sunshine that has brightened our pathway a while."
Hatcher is survived by her husband, Robert and three children Lonnie, 17, Jarrett, 15 and Jolene, 14.
However, Lonnie said his mother took in all children.
"She was there for all three of us kids a lot," he said. "But she loved all these kids she worked with and all my friends. She called all my buddies her boys."
The first of the children to speak, Lonnie struggled to maintain composure. Jarrett and Jolene joined him at the podium to offer support.
Lonnie also told of his mom's feisty side. How she had terrible aim, except when she was mad. When she got mad, she could hit anything she wanted -- even knocked her husband down with a shovel flung helicopter-style into the back of his knees.
Jarrett remembered his mom as the one who recognized each of her children's strengths and encouraged them to excel. She cheered for Lonnie during his football games and wrestling matches, she traveled with Jarrett to rodeos to watch him ride bulls and supported Jolene in her academic and athletic pursuits.
"It's hard knowing when I wake up my mom's not going to be there anymore," he said. "I know she's not going to be on the road with me anymore when I rodeo."
It's something Jolene hopes families don't take for granted.
"When you go home tonight, I want you to hold your parents and your children tight," she said. "I want you to tell them you love them every second of the day. You never know what's going to happen."
Her husband buried his face in his hands as Garth Brooks' "The Dance" played.
"For a moment, all the world was right. How could I have known, you'd ever say good-bye?"
It ended as friends and families looked heavenward to watch the last of the balloons disappear.