ELLIS — The town of Ellis showed it is #BurtonStrong on Thursday.
Ellis High School Principal Corey Burton, who was diagnosed this summer with acute myeloid leukemia, has been in Kansas City for treatment for six months. He underwent a bone marrow transplant in October and since then has been undergoing tests to monitor the progress and further treatment to keep the side effects and cancer at bay.
In the time he’s been away, the schools and town have shown their support with orange and black T-shirts and social media posts sporting “#BurtonStrong.”
More than 1,000 of the shirts have been sold, and along with fundraisers helped the family with travel expenses.
The hashtag has even been on athletic uniforms of other school teams, including Burton’s hometown of Hill City and Hillsboro, where he previously taught, coached and was a principal for 12 years. He’s been at Ellis since 2006.
With news of his homecoming, the Get Ellis Facebook page was flooded with photos of residents, businesses and family and friends from across the state wearing their t-shirts and decorating downtown business windows as a greeting. Even all the students at St. Mary's Catholic High School wore BurtonStrong T-shirts.
As the expected time of arrival drew near, the overcast skies began to clear. People stepped outside and peered north up Washington Street, watching and listening for the police escort that would usher Burton and his wife, Amy, down the town’s Main Street, and past the schools before heading home.
“A lot of us are in tears right now,” said Nicole Carroll, school counselor at EHS, after the Burtons drove past the front of the school greeted by the staff and students.
“It’s been exciting to know he’s coming home. We wanted to make this work and be cool for him,” Carroll said.
The homecoming brought people to downtown from work, and even from out of town.
Emily Mattheyer and Kayla Ford, who graduated in 2007 and 2008, respectively, were taking their work lunch break at the recently opened Riverside Espresso and Cafe on Washington Street, waiting for a schedule 12:45 p.m. arrival. Ford would have to return to work before then, but Mattheyer planned on being there.
Unfortunately, Burton’s arrival in town was pushed back to about 2 p.m., but the women said they were happy to see Burton was coming home.
“I live up by the high school, and near his home as well,” Mattheyer said. “Just passing him on the streets is a highlight, and I’ve missed that. So I’m excited to have him back in town.”
Ford and Mattheyer said respect for the principal is the key to the show of support.
“He’s got a good rapport with everybody,” Ford said.
Sharon Summers now lives near Victoria, but grew up in Ellis, and stood outside the school district’s office downtown waiting to greet Burton. She has grandchildren who attend both USD 388 and St. Mary's.
“He’s a good person. He’s just been a good man and good principal,” she said.
Carroll said while other staff at the high school and USD 388 Superintendent Bob Young have stepped up to help with the principal’s duties in Burton’s absence, he has still been involved throughout his time away from Ellis through email and phone calls.
“There was a stretch when I don’t think he was feeling the best that we didn’t hear a lot from him, but he’d still try to do some of his duties from Kansas City,” she said.
“We’ve done some FaceTime walks through the halls on Friday mornings so he can see and talk to the kids,” she said.
It will be awhile before he can back in the building, she said, but he will work from home or the district office.
“I know he’s ready to take back some of his roles,” Carroll said.
But first, Thursday was a day to celebrate.
“His triumph is our triumph,” she said.