Hunterdon Central High School Community Mourns Recent Deaths of Student and Teacher


RARITAN TWP., NJ – Yesterday’s meeting of Hunterdon Central High School’s Board of Education was the first of the year. It didn’t begin with the sort of bright optimism that typically accompanies such formalities.

Instead, “We must pause, with deep sadness,” said district Superintendent Chris Steffner. The purpose was to “remember two members of our Hunterdon Central family who have not returned with us.”

Katherine Schaefer, an 18-year-old senior at the school and Deborah McKenna, a special education teacher, each died during the winter break. The deaths were unrelated.

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“Katherine - Kaycee - was artistic and loving, deeply passionate about art and caring for animals,” Steffner said, her voice quivering as she read from her notes. “She was serving an internship as a veterinary technician, and was a member of the National Art Honor Society.” 

According to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family pay for Katherine’s medical and funeral costs, Katherine died after severe allergic reaction on Dec. 30. The reaction led to a severe asthma attack and she was rushed to the hospital. “After hours in unstable condition, she passed away,” the site says.

Katherine was familiar to customers of Schaefer Farms, where she worked side-by-side with her family, as her obituary notes.

Deborah McKenna was a “special education teacher who spent every day dedicated to her students,” Steffner said, “even days that were very difficult for her. Her courage was an inspiration to all of us.” She died New Year’s Day.

According to the teacher’s obituary, McKenna worked at the school for the last nine years. She was the co-advisor for the Peer Leadership Club that sponsored the Relay For Life at the school. Before that, the Whitehouse resident worked at Our Lady of Lourdes Church as the youth group coordinator. She was 59.

“As we pause this morning to remember them and how they affected our lives, we reflect on these words,” Steffner said. "Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same."

The two left many footprints, the superintendent said. “It is those memories and those moments which we will always hold most dear.”

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