Created: 06/05/2014 11:43 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- The staff at Glenville-Emmons Elementary School like to end each year by giving out awards to those students who stood out during the year.
But this year it was a staff member who received the biggest award for showing tremendous character in the face of adversity.
After staff handed out awards for things like attendance and sportsmanship, it was time for the students to take the microphone and give out their surprise award for outstanding character.
"This person has shown the students and staff in our building responsibility, kindness, respect, and most of all, perseverance,” said sixth grader Kennedy Severtson, who is also vice president of the school’s student council.
Student Council President Jadelyn Williamson then announced the Character Trait Award would go to Mary Branstad.
The students and staff erupted in cheers and applause as Branstad accepted the award while fighting back tears.
Mary Branstad is the school's secretary, and in January she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Throughout her treatment, she has remained at work, and the entire student body showed their support Thursday by showing up dressed in pink.
"You students are wonderful,” Branstad said, addressing the crowd. “And you surprised me with all of the pink today because you guys kept the secret really, really well because I had no clue."
Branstad said the students, staff, and parents have been extremely helpful in both their support, and in taking her mind off the disease.
"It’s the last thing I thought would ever happen to me,” Branstad said. “This job and the kids have been just a blessing in disguise to keep me focused on here, and not worrying about what's going on."
Branstad said she never expected anything other than maybe a kind word or a prayer, but students said they wanted to do something special.
"I want people to leave here knowing that Mary is strong in our hands and that we're here for her,” Kennedy said. “She's a really nice person."
"Mary is a very strong person and even though she does have cancer, she will not let it beat her,” Williamson said. “She will always be the same old Mary."
Branstad will finish her chemotherapy treatment in July before starting radiation treatment. She said she hopes to be done with all of her treatments by October.