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Although cancer took the life of Prineville Music Theater Camp director, her inspiration lives on in the children she touched

HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Members of the Prineville Music Theater Camp cast rehearse "Under the Sea" in preparation for the musical "Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr." They will perform at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 21-22 at the CCHS auditorium. Pictured left to right, Paisley Campbell as a flamingo, Alex Hughes as Ariel, Hannah Campbell as a flamingo, Hannah Jones as Ursula, Andilyn Noyes as Sebastian, and Garrett Stefanek as King Triton.

They left her ashes under the cross.

Our Savior's Lutheran Church had a special place in their mother's heart, so they scattered her ashes in the flower garden below the cross at the church.

"They really took her in," 24-year-old Emily Moore said of the congregation.

Michelle Moore was not only a member of the church for the few years that she lived in Prineville, but she breathed life into Prineville Music Theater Camp. The children in this summer's camp will perform "Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr." next weekend as a tribute to Michelle.

"I wonder if Michelle ever dreamed that her vision would grow into such an incredible thing for our community with 40 children in camp this year," says Kim Griffin, the stage production manager for Prineville Music Theater Camp.

Emily and her 21-year-old twin brothers, Colin and Brendan Moore, traveled from their home in Gallup, New Mexico, to Colorado, Iowa and Prineville to spread their mom's ashes at the places that were near and dear to her heart. They will also visit Seaside before heading home.

"She spent so much time here every summer, so we figured we'd get to see the program that she started," Emily said. "She created it. There are kids that had never really experienced musical theater like this, and it brought that into their lives."

HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Michelle Moore's children stand under the cross at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, where they spread her ashes earlier this week. Left to right, Brendan, Emily and Colin Moore, traveled to Prineville from their home in Gallup, New Mexico.Michelle had been a music teacher. She came to Prineville in 2008 and worked as a substitute teacher. When music programs were cut from the schools, she could not find work as a music teacher, but Pastor Barbara Punch and her church friends found a way to offer music to children. Our Savior's Lutheran Church had funds available for a kid's program.

"Wanting to keep Michelle here, we were able to put that money towards music and theater, one of Michelle's many talents, and Prineville Music Theater Camp was born," Griffin said.

In the summer of 2010, under Michelle's direction, a small group of children performed "Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch," a musical she had adapted from a book. Michelle's three children were part of the first production as well as "Godspell Jr."

After not being able to find permanent work, Michelle moved back to New Mexico, but she would return to Prineville every summer, spending three or four weeks directing Prineville Music Theater Camp.

"She called it her working vacation," Griffin laughed. "She would spend all of the money she made to get here and get home."

"It just worked out so well that they wanted to continue doing it, so she came back every summer after that and kept the theater going," Emily added.

But, things changed in late 2013 when Michelle was diagnosed with a type of leukemia.

"That first year, she had the port, and she did chemo, and then it went into remission and she was OK for a couple of years," Emily recalls. "And then just last fall, she got diagnosed again."

The cancer had come back.

While everyone thought she'd bounce back just like she had before, she didn't. She passed away April 17, just a few days after her 55th birthday.

But Prineville Music Theater Camp lives on.

For the last couple of years, Colleen Holbrook had helped with costumes and props. She has worked as a substitute teacher and has experience with music and theater camps.

"They let me know she had passed away, and I figured, you know, I'm going to need to step up and go ahead and take the director of it this year," Holbrook said. "I'm very happy to be doing it. I really love it, and it's a whole bunch of fun."

Holbrook said that in working with Michelle, she realized that Michelle loved every single kid in her camp — and they loved her back.

"It's not so much the production itself that's the end result, it's your relationships with the kids and of course the staff," Holbrook said. "She was 100 percent love."

And, the kids knew it.

They describe her as friendly, nice, loving and kind. They say their director was understanding, positive, caring and welcoming.

Katie Jones remembers her infectious energy and her passion.

"Her way of making everyone feel special," she said.

"She always knew if you were upset about something," says 13-year-old Brynn Hill, who has been with the camp since the beginning. "She could put a smile on your face no matter what was happening in your life."

Hill wants to go to school for acting and singing and possibly move to somewhere big where there's a lot of theater.

Her friend Romi Westenfelt, also 13, says Michelle was a great director, friend and inspiration.

"She always left us looking forward to summer when we could see her again," Westenfelt said. "We all miss her so much."

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRINEVILLE MUSIC THEATER CAMP
 - Prineville Music Theater Music Camp Director Michelle Moore (center) is surrounded by camp children while rehearsing "Shrek" in the summer of 2015. Moore passed away this spring, but the camp continues.Griffin says that Michelle had a personal relationship with the Lord that shone in her music.

"Her love for the kids and their gifts was seen every day," she said. "Although she had been in pain these past years, she tried very hard to not let that inhibit what she enjoyed most — music and kids."

The church hosted a celebration of life for Michelle June 17, where children spoke of how encouraging she had been.

"She inspired me to use a stronger voice, to have confidence in the roles that I auditioned for," said Alex Hughes, who plays Ariel in the upcoming "Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr."

Meredith Cooper, who had known Michelle for seven years, said she was special and influenced many lives.

"She was a selfless person, and without her support, I wouldn't be where I am today," Cooper said. "She will always live on in great memories."

As Michelle's three kids said farewell to the campers and crew, they left with memories of their own as well as a scrapbook with photos and stories of their mom.

"Michelle had some big shoes for us to fill. She had a dream that this would grow to be 40 kids — that was huge," the new director, Holbrook says. "We have exactly 40 this year, and we're doing this for her and in her memory and in her honor."

"Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr."

Presented by the children of Prineville Music Theater Camp

Preview Party: 4 p.m., Sunday, July 16, Room 1868, 152 NW Fourth St., Prineville

Performances: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, July 21-22, CCHS auditorium. Free, but donations accepted.

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