Hally “Bug” Nicole Yust, 9, Spring Hill, was athletic, feverishly competitive, giving and radiated joy wherever she went, Thurston, Hally’s grandmother, said. And the best thing about the girl was her was her love for Jesus.
“She was the little light in the room no matter where we were,” Thurston, rural Princeton, said. “If we were sitting at a national ski competition in Florida, we could look around and you’d see this little ray of sunshine and it was Hally ... she radiated in her walk with the Lord. She always had a smile. She was always funny. Like I said, she was the light of our world and the little ray of sunshine in her family.”
Hally died July 9 after contracting a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), caused by Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which is an amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater including lakes, rivers and hot springs.
Passions ran deep
Though family and friends will miss her, the young girl had confidence about her place in Heaven, Heidi Lynch, Hally’s aunt and owner/instructor at Studio H Dance at Washburn Towers, 526 S. Main St., Suite 162, Ottawa, said.
“She knew Him and trusted Him,” Lynch said. “Even her writings and songs that we found were so deep in faith with the Lord. She was anticipating a life in Heaven. She showed that in the way she lived, that she lived a life thinking that there is something much greater.”
Hally also lived life competitively, proving active in both basketball and water sports. Her family — father, Shon, mother, Jenny, and siblings, Parker, 16, Macy, 13, and Zoey, 3 — set up the The Hally “Bug” Yust K-State Women’s Basketball Scholarship in her honor.
Lynch laughed recalling Hally’s competitive spirt during a rec basketball game last year.
“Probably my most special thing with Hally is that we are really competitive, and she and I always liked to beat the boys at athletics,” Lynch said. “One basketball game in the last year, her dad was one of her coaches, and took her out and she promptly marched up to him ... She asked, ‘Why did you take me out?’ And he said, ‘Because you are scoring too many points.’”
Not only was she active in sports, but musically as well. A song she wrote and recorded on her iPod shortly before her death played Monday during a celebration of life in Olathe in her honor.
“She was a songwriter and a poet,” Thurston, who teaches sixth and seventh grade English at the Central Heights school district, said. “She has lovely songs that she has written. She did lots of iMovies.”
Hally also loved to play music, Thurston said.
“She was a violin player,” she said. “We would go to Crown Center [in Kansas City] every Christmas season and watch her perform in Christmas concerts with her violin and she enjoyed that. ... They all got together and came down to Vintage Park [2250 S. Elm St., Ottawa] where my mother [Joyce Wasmund] is living, and presented a violin and Christmas carol singing concert for the residents and, of course, that made their great-grandma feel good. Hally always came up with, ‘Well, lets do’ this or ‘Can we do this for this person?’”
The girl’s passions ran deep, her family said.
“She loved basketball. She loved to water ski, she loved to be in the water,” Thurston said. “They are a very active family in the water ski club. She’s a great competitor. She would always give everything she had to whatever she was doing.”
Her active lifestyle typically was part of family togetherness, she said. The Yusts enjoy water sports, as well as tending to their farm in Sylvia, about 30 miles west of Hutchinson, she said.
“[Hally] was always right there wanting to do with whatever the family was doing,” Thurston said. “During the summer, their life revolved around the water and water sports. She started competing in water skiing at an earlier age ... just because she was so competitive. She would play just hours and hours with her little sister, Zoey. She looked up to her older sister, Macy. When you saw one of the kids, you saw all four of them. The parents loved having four children. They spent lots of time doing family things.
“When they went to the farm to do farming, they all went. They all were involved, they all worked hard. During wheat harvest in June, Hally spent 11 hours a day with her 12-year-old cousin driving the grain cart. She was the youngest grandchild out there to ever drive the grain cart. The last day we were out there working, her cousin said, ‘Do you want to try [driving the tractor]?’ And Hally said, ‘Of course.’ Her dad got a big kick out of that. She was too little to keep it going, but she sat there and learned all about it.”
A giving rebel
Even at Lynch’s dance studio Hally had a “rebellious” attitude, Lynch said, recalling a story of her niece spending time in her Kinder Combo (ballet and tap) class.
“She took class two years ago and she always came to visit,” she said. “When she took class, she came straight from school and would always be exhausted from school. We thought she’d love it because she loves music, like me, and to move and dance, but it was too slow for her.
“She was like, ‘Ok I’m bored with this.’ So she endured the whole year because she wanted to be with me, but you could see the look on her face, she was like ‘I love being with you, but can we go do something else?’ She wished we could just turn the music on and do whatever we wanted. She was kind of rebellious like that.”
But both Lynch and Thurston agree that one of Hally’s best traits was her ability to give. Two months ago, she raised enough money to send Bibles to a school in Haiti, Thurston said.
“[She had a] giving spirit,” she said. “She was always wanting to give to others. Her dad said, if her best friend was over there playing and they liked Hally’s favorite toy, she gave it to them. Two months ago, she stood up in front of her church congregation and spoke to the church about needing Bibles for a school in Haiti. She finished her speech by saying, ‘I’ll take cash or checks.’”
Hally’s family members don’t want their tragedy to scare people away from the waters the young girl loved, they said.
“We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare, and this is not something to become fearful about,” the family said in a news release. “We hope you will not live in fear of this rare infection that took our daughter’s life. Our family is very active in water sports, and we will continue to be.”
Thurston noted it’s a “one in a billion chance that people might contract this parasite and for it to enter the body and attack to body. It’s very, very rare.”
Because several potential exposure locations were possible, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment could not determine the exact source of Hally’s infection, though indications were that Hally contracted the parasite in Johnson County, the agency said July 11. The amoeba typically infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose, and the organism travels to the brain causing PAM. Although people cannot get infected by drinking water with Naegleria fowleri, PAM is typically fatal, according to the CDC. Hally was the second-ever recorded case in Kansas, the first coming in 2011, KDHE said.
Memories of Hally live on in the many stories Thurston recalled, one being when her husband, Larry, a farmer, went out to plant in the spring and Hally asked her grandfather if she could ride with him.
“He said she talked non-stop for two hours,” Thurston said with a laugh. “She talked all about how she was going to open a vet clinic and hire her sister so she could train her right ... She was kind of little entrepreneur.
“When you are so full of life, we could never say for sure what she was going to be, because whatever the most giving thing was, that’s what she was going to be doing.”