POLLOK, TX (KTRE) - A beloved teacher with the Central Independent School District lost her six-month battle with cancer Tuesday. Denise Clifton, who had been a teacher for 20 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013.
A Central ISD official confirmed Wednesday morning that Clifton, a 44-year-old Wells resident, died at a Lufkin hospice facility on Tuesday. Clifton had taught with Central ISD for five years.
"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass," said Karen Shumaker, the principal of Central Elementary School. "It's about learning to dance in the rain."
Those words will always remind Shumaker of Clifton, who was her best friend.
Even in her final days, Clifton remained positive and tried to bring smiles to the faces of the people she loved, Shumaker said.
"It's just so inspiring to me that she could make people laugh even though she wasn't well," Shumaker said.
For the past two years, she taught as an 8th grade English/language arts teacher at Central Junior High. Before that, she spent three years as a third grade teacher at Central Elementary. Before she came to Central ISD, Clifton taught at Wells ISD.
Back in February, more than 600 Central ISD students wearing beanies, baseball caps, and cowboy hats packed the Central Elementary gymnasium for a "hats off" ceremony to show their support for Clifton.
Kris Whisneant, the principal of Central Junior High, said he was inspired by the way the community rallied around Clifton.
"They have realized that, unfortunately, sometimes this is a part of life, and that sometimes life can be very sorrowful and very hurtful," Whisneant said. "The teachers and the kids have all been resilient."
However, instead of mourning, the teachers at Central ISD spent their day honoring their friend and co-worker.
"She's won the battle because she is going to heaven," Shumaker said.
Before she moved to Central ISD, Clifton was a favorite among the faculty, staff, and students at Wells ISD. Early on, district officials knew that Clifton was someone special.
"She was engaging students before the education profession picked up on that and made it a buzz word and a thing that now we all stress in our evaluations," said Dale Morton, the superintendent of Wells ISD.
"We love one another just like family," Anita Byrd, an assistant principal at Central Elementary, said in a previous East Texas News story. "You do become family here."
In a previous story, Byrd said Central ISD's faculty, staff, and students had just gotten back from the 2013 Christmas break when they received word that Clifton had been sick in the hospital. Shortly after that, they learned that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Central ISD personnel and students rallied to show their support for Clifton. They wore T-shirts in her honor, had hat and jeans days, and even had bake sale fund raisers.
"Ms. Clifton is loved by people all around. I know Hudson has been involved and so has Diboll," Byrd said. "She's just a greatly loved teacher."
Services for Clifton are scheduled for 2p.m. Friday at the First Baptist Church of Nacogdoches. Visitation will be Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Laird Funeral Home, which is located on South Street in Nacogdoches.