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Dressed In Love

How one woman’s legacy survives in serving others

By Shane Gilreath

“Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Teresa famously said.  “But we all can do small things with great love.” 

It’s a sentiment that has reverberated throughout McCreary County in recent weeks, bringing in “small things” from as far away as Alaska. When McCreary County lost Marlo Sumner in early January, it lost more than a well-known citizen.  It lost an encouraging, compassionate soul who had sought to aid the community, but especially to facilitate betterment in the lives of the students with whom she worked on a daily basis. As part of her longtime employment with the McCreary County School District, she had worn many hats:  Youth Service Center coordinator, softball coach, mentor, and in her youth, star athlete.

“The day after her funeral, my family and I sat down and we discussed something we could do in honor of Marlo and it hit me,” her niece, Taylor Sumner told The Voice. 

It was in that moment that “Marlo’s Princess Prom Project” was born. 

“She loved to give back to her students,” Taylor remembered, “so that they would be all fancy and have the perfect prom.”

Annually, Marlo, who was already notable among friends and family for her own personal style and love of fashion, took local students to a “Princess Prom Project,” whose mission it is to provide self-confidence and individual beauty by providing free prom dresses and accessories to those who cannot otherwise afford them.

“She loved it,” Taylor said. “This was her favorite time of year.”

From that inspiration and Marlo’s love of making prom special for McCreary Central students, a new program in her memory was born.  As of publication, the program has raised roughly $6,000 and has been the recipient of over 100 dress donations. Taylor plans to do this again and again in her aunt’s memory, planning to spend one-hundred percent of the annual revenue toward that year’s student participants, with fundraising expected to start again in 2023.

“I know with Marlo’s light shining on me with this and the help of the community that I’ve been show, the sky’s the limit,” Taylor believes.  Looking ahead, she has set a goal to establish an annual dress shop that would allow students a full prom experience.

The program’s first 2022 expenditure, however, took place this past weekend, when Taylor took a student to Lexington for a shopping adventure, where, according to Sumner, the student was able to buy the “perfect” dress, shoes, and accessories, all provided free of charge to by the program’s many patrons.

“That was when I knew I had done something Marlo would have loved to have been there for,” she said.  It was an experience that allowed her to fondly remember her own shopping excursions with her aunt.

“My senior year, Marlo took me dress shopping and the smile on her face when she saw how excited I was is the same reaction I had when the student found the perfect dress.”

Taylor, who feels blessed by the community’s support, also plans to help local students pay for hair, makeup, and nails, in addition to paying for their prom tickets, prom pictures, dresses and accessories.

“So the project that I started, I hoped would be able to find the girls’ dresses” Taylor acknowledges, “but it has turned into an all-inclusive prom experience”

The program shows what ingenuity coupled with a magnanimous spirit can accomplish, but also demonstrates the legacy of Marlo Sumner and the on-going difference one person can make in the lives of many.

“I think Marlo would be smiling with that big ole smile of hers at how far this project has come and how she started something and we continue to keep it going,” Taylor said.

“I wish she could have known how many people loved her,” she continued. “She would be overwhelmed with the love and support the county and all her friends and family have shown.  She hated to be in the spotlight, but that’s exactly where she stood in many people’s lives.”

Taylor’s words were echoed over and over in the many donations the program has received.  It’s a lasting memorial from a niece to an aunt, and the embodiment of Mother Teresa’s sentiment – we can all do small things in great love.

If you would like to help financially support “Marlo’s Princess Prom Program,” or know a student who could benefit from the program’s assistance, you can contact Taylor Sumner via Facebook, telephone at (606) 376-5051, or via email taylor.sumner@mccreary.kyschools.us.  A memorial fund has also been set up at United Cumberland Bank.

Photo submitted

Marlo Sumner, top, pictured with her father, Larry, and brother, Mark, is shown dressed for her own prom.  The longtime employee of the McCreary County School District made it a personal mission to help local students look their best during prom season.  When Sumner died in January, her niece, Taylor Sumner, above, upheld her aunt’s legacy by founding “Marlo’s Princess Prom Project,” which continues the mission of dressing local girls for prom.

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