WINTER GARDEN — Semone Adkins’ offer to sing at her best friend’s funeral was touching and sincere and the best way she knew how to show her love for her lifelong buddy, whom she called “a sweet boy.” Her voice lifted up the words to “Take Me to the King” Aug. 29 at First Baptist Church Winter Garden as she and hundreds of others said goodbye to Travjuan “Bubba” Hunter, undeniably one of the most popular students on the campus of West Orange High School.
Hunter and Adkins, both 20, made headlines across the nation two years ago as the first students with Down syndrome to be voted king and queen of Homecoming.
Bubba died Aug. 21 of pneumonia, and the news of his passing has rocked not only the high school community but West Orange County, as well. Bubba’s broad smile, bear-tight hugs and enthusiasm for life made him a friend to everyone.
In the days after West Orange posted the announcement on Facebook, friends and community members were lifting Bubba’s family up in prayer.
He will be remembered forever in everyone’s hearts.
Keep that smile on your face, Bubba, just like you brought to all you met.
Heaven will be much brighter with that smile.
Bubba will always have a special place in the hearts of the West Orange family.
You and your smile and attitude made this community a better place.
“Bubba’s smile and personality was contagious,” Principal Doug Szcinski said last week. “Everyone at West Orange knew him and loved him. He left an indelible mark and legacy on Warrior Nation. Thank you, Bubba. We miss you, and you will always be remembered.”
Bubba’s name will be added to the fallen warrior memorial near the student parking lot.
Last Friday was deemed “Blue for Bubba” Day, and staff and students showed up in his favorite color. The administration typically makes an all-call to students who are wearing a certain color (such as pink for October or blue and orange for Homecoming) on designated days, and someone takes a group photo in the courtyard. But so many people showed up wearing Bubba’s favorite color that a group shot was impossible.
“We’ve never had that many students show support for something,” teacher Leisa Hopkins-Brown said.
Many staffers donned a light blue Superman shirt in memory of Bubba.
The Superman title was bestowed upon him by Jim Mattingly, one of his former teachers, because Bubba enjoyed posing like the superhero, flexing his muscles and challenging students and teachers to arm-wrestling competitions.
“For us, it has more meaning than that because through all his struggles, he fought through and overcame them every day — with a smile, no less,” Hopkins-Brown said. “He is our Superman.”
Hopkins-Brown is a teacher on the Exceptional Student Education team and worked with Bubba for several years.
“Bubba was an amazingly positive, bubbly soul and will be forever missed,” she said. “We have programs like Best Buddies to help bridge the gap between our students and the general population, and it helps. But Bubba single-handedly did more for inclusion than we could ever hope to achieve. He was that special.”
Bubba made friends wherever he went — including at his part-time job of three years at Health Central Park, where he worked in the kitchen preparing food, serving drinks to residents and cleaning up after breakfast. Folding and hanging laundry were also among his responsibilities.
Members of West Orange’s ESE team comforted one another by sharing Bubba stories.
Janessa Cavanzon, a former student at West Orange, didn’t attend her senior prom. When Bubba found out, he asked her to go with him to last school year’s prom. He talked about his suit for weeks and considered adding a top hat and cane.
Once he got to the event, he was in the middle of the dance floor the entire evening.
“His energy was so contagious,” she said.
Cavanzon said he frequently talked about taking her to Golden Corral on his three-wheeled bike, too.
According to Hopkins-Brown, the daily walk from the classroom to the cafeteria at lunchtime took a lot longer than it should have because Bubba had to stop and hug everyone along the way.
“He didn’t grow into his popularity,” she said. “He had it from Day 1.”
She laughed at his mischievous ways. He had diabetes and knew he was supposed to watch what he ate and drank. But Hopkins-Brown said he occasionally sneaked a swipe of frosting off a cupcake or took a sip of juice instead of water. And then he grinned.
Rhonda Smith was proud of the fact that she was his “school mom,” having had him for almost six years at West Orange. She and Mattingly both spoke Saturday at the funeral.
“When someone is gone, people say he left an impact,” Michelle Cavanzon said. “He really left an impact.”
Kyle Griffitts, a 2014 graduate and senior class president at West Orange, was devastated when he learned of Bubba’s death. The two had been in the running for the Homecoming king title, which Hunter ultimately won.
After hearing the news about his friend, Griffitts, who is serving a two-year mission in Argentina for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expressed his feelings in an email he sent to a group of family and friends.
“I just found out today that my buddy Bubba passed away this week,” Griffitts wrote. “That guy was a stud. I can’t remember the last time I’ve cried so much. … The world just lost an absolute Warrior. It’s hard, it really is; but what means more than his passing away is the legacy that he left for everyone that knew Bubba. That kid was just a bundle of joy.
“I remember every single time I saw him, he would run up to me, or I would run up to him,” he wrote. “He would give me a fist bump, a high five or just the biggest loving hug ever. He would make my day so much. I remember the constant arm wrestling in the cafeteria. And just the energy and love that radiated from him; it was contagious and addicting. Everyone loved Bubba, and everyone wanted him to come over and say, ‘Hi,’ or have their Bubba time, because he was just so dang loving. He was the obvious winner of Homecoming king, and to see his smile during that time was unforgettable.
“I will never forget Bubba and will always remember what he did for me and for the school I will always love,” Griffitts wrote. “We lost a stud, but it’s great to know where he is right now, and I know that he is in a better place right now. … I will miss you so dang much, Bubba. Your life was short but what you left behind will forever be with me and the hearts of the students of West Orange High School and all who had the pleasure to meet you and see your bright smile. He is someone who truly made the world a better place, in his small yet so significant way. I pray we can have more people like Bubba, and I pray I can be more like him, that we all can.”
Travjuan “Bubba” Hunter weighed less than 3 pounds when he was born early, said his mother, Janice Morgan, but he’s always been a fighter. He attended Magnolia School, Dillard Street Elementary and Gotha Middle before becoming a West Orange Warrior.
In recent years he experienced swelling in his feet and low oxygen, but no one ever heard him complain.
Morgan wants her son to be remembered for one thing.
“That smile,” she said. “He was just a very loving boy.”
She will forever be grateful to the student body for electing her son Homecoming king.
“It was a night I’ll never forget,” she said. “It was unbelievable. Words cannot express how I felt that night.”
“He loved this place so much,” said Meke Smith, a West Orange dean who often arm-wrestled Bubba. “I never saw someone who loved West Orange so much. He never lost his smile. He made everyone around him better.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].
HOW TO HELP
West Orange High School is collecting money to assist Janice Morgan in paying for her son’s medical and funeral expenses. Checks can be made out to Janice Morgan and either dropped off in the school office for Room 628 or mailed to the school, 1625 Beulah Road, Winter Garden, Florida 34787.