A retiring security guard who had greeted students at a North Texas school with a warm smile and his signature salute for decades received a surprise gift of more than $179,000 from current and former students.
Many say it was the least they could do for the priceless gift he gave the generations of girls walking through the doors at the Hockaday School in Dallas.
Kief Tekle was at the school every morning for the past 30 years with a warm hug and a big smile. He knew every student and parent, past and present, by name.
"My mom went there, and he was there when my mom was there,” said third grader Sofia Santellana. “He always greets us on the way to school with a smile on his face. I've never seen him with like a mad face."
Kief has been at the Hockaday School working carpool and security since 1986.
"He makes me feel really happy because he has a smile on his face,” said third grader Alexandra Smith. “Whenever someone is happy, I get happy. Everyone's happy."
“They are precious. I love them,” said Kief. “They make my job easier. They listen to me."
And over the years, he has listened to more than 3,000 students at the all-girls school including alum Abby Hoak-Morton.
“You meant so much to me, and I appreciated every morning. You made me feel so special every time I came on campus,” Hoak-Morton, who started the GoFundMe campaign, told Kief. “And so you deserve this and so much more.”
Hoak-Morton started the online campaign as a gift from her class of 2005 with a goal of $2,000. But the campaign exploded with donations pouring in while people poured out their hearts.
Rhiannon posted, “You were the first person I met at Hockaday when I was four years old and the first person I wanted to have turned my senior ring 14 years later.”
Cassie wrote, “We met in 1988. Until I graduated in 2000, you made sure I was safe. We had cake when you became an American citizen, and you shared stories of Ethiopia."
Kief found a second home at Hockaday after leaving his native Ethiopia during a civil war. He was sponsored by a Christian charity to come to the U.S. in the early 80s and was almost immediately part of the school community.
Students have shown their love for Kief by signing a memory book. Even some of the youngest students were sharing their ‘Kief stories.’
“Everybody knows Kief,” said first grader Mary Power. “And he knows everybody. He was very nice and very very very funny.”
“To have Kief be the first person you greet you in the morning changes your day. It makes you have a wonderful day” said Head of Lower School Randal Rhofus. “He's been doing that and setting the tone for our Hockaday students for the last 30 years. That's something I will always remember and always be so grateful to him for."
A private ceremony was held for the announcement of Keif’s GoFundMe campaign. With a grand total of $179,103, the campaign was one of the fastest growing ever in the Dallas area.
It was a big surprise for a man with an even bigger heart. Those who donated said it's not about the money; it's about the gift of kindness Kief gave their families over the years.
“I'm gonna miss everyone at Hockaday,” said Kief. “Everyone. Everyone."
The GoFundMe account remains open. You can find it by clicking here.