Arec Winright remembers watching his father tinker with cars, fixing engines and mufflers and explaining how things work to his curious son.
“I’d watch and he’d show me and I would try to learn it,” said the Byron Center High School senior.
Arec describes his father, Daniel Winright, as a stocky, straight-forward man who loved heavy mental music, mechanics and was quick to lend a hand. The father and son had a special bond.
“I looked up to him as a role model. Everybody says I am just like him,” Arec said. “He was stubborn and didn’t exactly like to see other people’s ideas, but once you got to know him he would help out as much as he could.”
Arec lived with his dad– just the two of them– for several years. For a long stretch of that time Daniel was very ill with an ulcer, pancreatitis and diabetes. Still, they did the best they could together, and Arec, who now lives with his mother and stepfather, cherishes many special moments spent going to movies and listening to the radio.
Arec was a seventh grader when his father died. “I found him unconscious in the bathroom,” he said. “He was in a coma and then his organs failed and he passed away.”
Honoring Dad by Working Hard
Arec has been spending the final months of his senior year (while school is closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus) finishing school work including Advanced Placement classes, working part-time at a gas station and preparing for his freshman year at Michigan State University. (Graduation has been postponed tentatively until July 27.)
Arec has maintained a 3.5 grade-point average, despite the emotional weight of dealing with the loss of his father, which led him to withdraw from others. He has lived with his mother, brother, stepfather and stepbrother since his father died.
“It’s something I still have to deal with now, of course. It was hard to get past the idea that I couldn’t go back to see him.”
Arec’s hard work as a student was a point of pride for his father.
“My dad always told me to push myself to go further in my classes,” Arec said. “He always enjoyed that I did my best in my classes, so I tried to succeed.”
When he first returned to school after his father’s death, Arec received help from middle school counselors. His peers created a huge card for him and all signed it.
Arec still has the card. “A lot of people came together to do a nice thing for me. It’s hard for people to get close and ask me (about my dad), but it meant a lot that they made something for me.”
Still, Arec struggled emotionally. “I stayed mostly on track with grades, but after he passed away it was hard to connect with other people,” he said. In ninth grade Arec began opening up to other students. “I got some nice friends and was able to talk to people about it.”
Writing a Strength
Byron Center High School counselor Wade Zeilenga said Arec always had his father in mind when working toward his goals.
“Arec’s passion for and connection to his dad was evident,” Zeilenga said. “We talked about honoring his dad by doing his best and working hard at school. Arec and I met periodically to talk about class scheduling and life in general and each spring we met to reminisce about his dad. Through it all I have been impressed with his intelligence and dedication to do his best.”
Arec has an interest in math, science and engineering and plans to major in mechanical engineering at MSU. He also has an interest in creative writing and won a silver key award in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for an essay about his father.
English teacher Erinn Caley said Arec expresses himself very well through writing.
“He’s an extraordinary person,” Caley said. “He’s a bright student, and though he’s fairly quiet in class, it’s always been quite clear to me that there are wells of depth and strength in him. His writing often reveals unusual creativity and thoughtfulness. I’ve loved having him in class.”
When Arec thinks of his dad, his mind goes to working on cars and watching movies, and also to the dreams his father had for Arec.
“Before he passed away he said the only thing he wanted was for me and my brother to graduate from high school.”