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A school in mourning

After her memorial service last Thursday at Verndale School, Christine Alberts parents release a couple of doves.

Hundreds filled the Verndale auditorium last Thursday to mourn the loss of a girl whom friends describe as fun, friendly and fearless.

Verndale junior Christine Alberts died April 21- the day before her 17th birthday - from injuries suffered in a UTV accident just south of Wadena.

"Each friend came away a better person because of the gift of friendship she had given them," said Alberts' grandmother, Minister Bev McNeill, who presided over the memorial service.

While Verndale canceled afternoon classes, many students - particularly upperclassmen - returned for the funeral. As buses arrived with students from three other districts, the auditorium reached capacity. The overflow crowd watched a video feed from the band room.

During the service, McNeill highlighted Alberts' charm, her kindness and her faith.

McNeill urged students to have good, clean fun - just like her granddaughter.

"Christine knew how to have a good time," McNeill said, "but she would do it without drinking and doing drugs."

An active girl, Alberts' interests included 4-H, dance, kickboxing, golf, volleyball, softball, choir and marching band. She volunteered for Relay for Life and taught Vacation Bible School. In 2011, Alberts won the Miss Teen Minnesota Queen of Hope pageant.

After the funeral, Alberts' parents released a pair of doves into a somber spring sky. Later that afternoon, she was buried in a Kensington cemetery.

It would have been hard to guess this was Alberts' first year at Verndale, said social studies teacher Sam Schmitz, who had Alberts in two classes. A native of the Morris area, Alberts moved to Wadena from southern Minnesota last year when her mother took a job as music teacher at Bertha-Hewitt.

"Everyone knew her," Schmitz said. "She was such as nice kid and would talk to everyone ... She made friends the first day of school. She made a difference in a lot of people's lives."

One friend, sophomore Chelsey Hartman, said Alberts was always complimenting others. "She put other people before herself."

Alberts was fearless and full of energy, said junior Jessica Wright, a close friend.

"She always was happy and had an open mind," Wright said. "It's a shame. She was so young."

Tragedy takes its toll on any school, particularly one as small as Verndale.

Schmitz said she's "been really proud of our student body, how they've banded together during this period of mourning and grieving."

The impressive turnout last Thursday demonstrates the impact Alberts and her family have had on the community, Verndale Principal Tom Riitters said. "That's a true testament to the quality kids she was."

For Alberts' obituary, see Page 2B.