Wichita Toy Run organizer Holly Potelle, an avid motorcyclist and middle school teacher, died Monday evening from injuries sustained doing what she loved: riding her motorcycle.
She was 55.
Ms. Potelle was a staple in the Wichita biking community, known especially for her decades of work gathering toys in the Wichita Toy Run, an annual benefit for the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots. About 4,000 toys were collected last year – the run’s 32nd event – thanks to Ms. Potelle’s efforts, said Cheryl Warne, director of Emergency Services for the Salvation Army in Wichita.
“She had a huge impact because she cared about kids and was absolutely driven to make sure the motorcycle toy ride was the best it could be because it helped so many children,” Warne said Tuesday.
“She will leave a big hole in our community because she did so much and cared so much.”
Ms. Potelle, a Rago resident, died shortly after 6 p.m. Monday on a stretch of K-42 near Viola after gusting south winds forced her motorcycle into a ditch, Sedgwick County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Cole said. She tried to guide her motorcycle back onto the highway, authorities said, but she hit a driveway and was thrown from her bike.
The National Weather Service in Wichita estimated wind speeds to be between 30 and 35 mph at the time of the accident.
Last year, the Toy Run drew an estimated 2,777 motorcyclists. Milt Mounts, marketing director for Alefs, expects local motorcyclists to band together for a larger benefit in 2012.
“Holly was the original organizer of the Toy Run over 30 years ago,” Mounts said. “I have no doubt the event will go on in her legacy. I believe it will be even bigger and stronger because people know that’s the way Holly would want it.”
At Harper Elementary School in Harper, where she taught middle-school English for six years, Ms. Potelle was known for her no-nonsense teaching style, dedication to students and her love of reading, principal Bill Giesen said.
“In the classroom, she didn’t put up with a lot of nonsense, but she would bend over backwards to help out any of the kids,” Giesen said.
Last year, she was named adviser of the year by the Technology Student Association (TSA), a national group of aspiring engineers and scientists in middle and high school, after leading Harper’s TSA team to the national conference.
Despite Ms. Potelle’s loss, the team will still participate in this year’s competition, scheduled for later this week in Nashville, Tenn. That’s what she would want, Giesen said.
“She takes it very serious. … She’d want them to go on,” he said.
Counseling will be offered to students and others, as needed, Giesen said.
Ms. Potelle is survived by her husband, Jeff Potelle; two sons, Lucien and Grayson; and a daughter, Genevieve. Her family could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Genevieve Potelle posted this tribute to her mother on Facebook:
“She was so strong and full of life. I love her so incredibly much that it hurts me to know that I can never talk to her again or ask her for advice. Glad I got to tell her that I loved her one last time, but I wish I would have said it more often.”
Prairie Rose Funeral Home in Harper is in charge of arrangements. Services are pending.
Contributing: Stan Finger of The Wichita Eagle