Thirteen-year-old Ace Garate had the kind of smile that could light up a room.

Those who knew him said he was kind, forgiving and selfless — the type of kid that would go out of his way to make sure the people around him were happy.

To Carlos and Amy Garate, their son was a bastion of faith, expressing his love for God in everything he did.

A seventh-grader at Emporia Middle School, Ace died May 15 from injuries he sustained when the vehicle in which he was riding was rear-ended by another vehicle just outside Branson, Missouri. Today, his family and friends are struggling with Ace’s sudden loss while striving to be like Ace — to make the world a brighter place.

“He was always seeking smiles,” Carlos Garate said. “Whether it was doing a good deed for somebody or just telling them to have a good day — whatever he did for somebody else — it was to make them smile.”

Love for others

Amy Garate, remembered her son as a child who was always excited and, at times, a little over-the-top when it came to his love for volunteering.

“He always had to be the first person to be there to help with anything and the last person to leave,” she said. “You know, if you needed the help and everything. He was always so extra, and he would always get more than what he needed, but it wasn’t for him. It was because somebody else needed it.”

That innate generosity was special.

“He was an angel,” Amy Garate said. “He was a real-life angel that walked the earth for those 13 years. God gave him to us and — I don’t feel like we come from our parents; I feel like we come through our parents and that we’re all God’s children.”

Love for God

And Ace’s love for God was something special, something he could share with the world.

“I feel like prayer helped him a lot,” Amy Garate said. “He was really close to God. He didn’t know the Bible. He didn’t have to know the Word. He would never go into his Sunday School class for him at church. He always wanted to be with the adults and wanted to sit there, and his favorite thing was just the worship music. People tell us stories about watching him in church when he’s a little boy and he’d just be doing air drums during the worship time.”

Twelfth Avenue Baptist Church Student Pastor Jordan Stineman said Ace was a “sweet kid” with a good heart. He had always wondered why Ace didn’t show up at the beginning of those classes.

“He would stay back with his family and do the worship songs,” Stineman said. “He didn’t want to miss the worship songs and he would sing so loud, this little kid, that other people would turn around like, ‘Who is singing so loud?’ And it was always Ace. That’s kind of just who he was.”

Ace also enjoyed helping with the younger children’s church classes.

“He, on his own, decided he wanted to help serve the AWANA program,” Stineman said. “He really just took it on himself to reach out to kids and form friendships with kids younger than him when he didn’t have to. He was one of those leaders, where it was never super official that he was a leader, but the kids saw him as one because of the way he impacted them. That’s pretty consistent with the rest of his life when you hear people talk about Ace.”

Carlos Garate attributes Ace’s love of God to his grandmother, Mercedes Garate. Faith was something that formed a bond between them.

“He was Grandma’s best friend,” Carlos Garate said. “The love she had for him, and the love he had for her was also a special kind.”

Love for family

The Garates said Ace was always a special child, especially when it came to his siblings. He was the biggest fan and cheerleader for 16-year-old Ethan, and a caring and protective older brother to his 5-year-old twin sisters, VeraLynn and VaidaLynn.

“He was just the best brother, you know, always being there for his sisters,” Amy Garate said.

“He was my oldest son’s biggest cheerleader,” Carlos Garate added. “Nobody rooted for him [more] than Ace, and he’d find a way to insert himself into, not the actual game, but ... Ace figured out how to be in the dugout or next to the dugout; he’d be right on the sidelines during the high school football games.”

During Ethan’s wrestling tournaments, Ace would be right there on the mat, too.

Wrestling Coach Brook Medrano said he would remember Ace for his smile and his unending friendliness.

“Ace was a young man than could light up a room with his smile and laugh,” Medrano said. “He was always there to help others with whatever needed to be done. Ace never knew a stranger, and if you were, you weren’t for long. I remember him always playing with other kids no matter what age. He was so great with younger kids.”

He said everyone should strive for the kind of impact Ace had on everyone he met.

“Ace was always respectful and kind to others,” he said. “Carlos and Amy, you all raised an amazing young man. So, with that being said, I feel that we all should take a page out of Ace’s book. Every day we should put a smile on our faces and try to help others. Not only that, but try to be the best you can be. Ace, you are missed, little buddy, but thank you for being you.”

For his sisters, Ace was a one-man jungle gym, often letting the girls climb all over him even when they should have been winding down for bed. Just two weeks ago, Ace helped teach his sisters how to ride their bikes without training wheels. Amy Garate said it’s been hard for the girls as they deal with such a monumental loss.

“The sisters, they don’t know how to get it out, but it hurts inside,” she said. “They’ll just come up and say they miss Ace.”

Love without borders

The grief over Ace’s death has extended beyond the borders of the United States. Family members in Ecuador are also feeling the loss, Carlos said. The Garates would take trips to see relatives often, and even when Ace who didn’t speak Spanish couldn’t communicate with his cousins, they still managed to have fun together.

And it was during the family’s most recent trip to Ecuador that Ace said something his parents never thought they would have to worry about.

“Five months ago, we were in Ecuador for a couple of weeks and we went to my grandfather’s grave and we’re all just sitting there mourning it and just crying, and Ace said that he wouldn’t want to be buried where people come and cry all of the time,” Carlos Garate said. “He goes, ‘When I die, I want to be ashes.’”

The conversation came back to them after the car accident. Ace’s body was approved for organ donation, another way for the boy to help the world. Then, the family honored Ace’s wishes, though they are not yet sure what they will do with his ashes.

Love after death

For now, the Garates are content knowing that parts of their son’s body will be used to help others.

“It’s what Ace would have wanted,” Amy Garate said.

In the last week, the Garates said they have learned more about the impact Ace had in his short life from others who are grieving his loss along with them. A GoFundMe account started to help offset costs for the family quickly raised more than $20,000.

Carlos Garate said they are waiting for Ace to tell them how to use the money to better serve the community.

Shortly after news of Ace’s death had hit the community, a movement called “#ACEItUP” started gaining momentum. The purpose? To inspire people to be like Ace, to be a selfless and generous helper.

“Seeing everyone go above and beyond means everything,” Carlos Garate said. “The meaning of ‘Ace It Up’ is Ace, and it’s happening. When we were sitting in the hospital and still off of Facebook, Amy was like, ‘We need to start a movement so nobody ever forgets Ace.’ She’s saying all of this stuff and then when we get out of the hospital and we’re able to sit down and get online, it’s already happening. Ace is already doing the magic. The magic he left here has already started. It’s really touched us.”

Love endures

EMS Language Arts Teacher Sarah Bean said evidence of Ace’s giving spirit wasn’t hard to find. Whether he was buying popsicles for his friends at lunch every day or sharing popcorn, Ace was always thinking about other people.

“Middle schoolers use food as currency,” she said. “It’s really about trying to earn favors or popularity, and he didn’t care about that kind of stuff. He would just give stuff away. He was such a generous spirit.”

Ace would often eat lunch in Bean’s classroom with a handful of other children. It became a safe space for them to talk, laugh, share stories. They talked about everything from football to crushes to school.

“It was like, we just need a space to be real, some place that’s just quiet where we are able to have some calm time,” Bean said. “Eight or nine kids came to have lunch with me most days.”

Bean said Ace was a fun kid to have in class, even when he was acting goofy and maybe being a little “extra.”

“He was like everyone’s kid brother in a way and we all just really loved him,” she said. “He had such an endearing smile, and you’re trying to be stern and get him in trouble for something he’s doing in class, and he just smiles at you and your heart melts a little bit. You couldn’t stay mad at him. You couldn’t have a fight with him. He was just a caring, tender-hearted boy.”

In the wake of Ace’s death, Bean said the group has been grieving together and trying to be more like Ace.

“Kids have wanted to remember things about him,” she said. “It’s been a lot of sharing and joy and supporting each other and generosity that isn’t common, especially in his core class. There’s just been a lot of tender ways that the kids have looked out for each other during this time. It’s precious and it’s exhausting, but I think Ace would be really proud of how his friends are choosing to remember him.”

The Garates said they are thankful for all of the support from the community. They want visitors to know they are not intruding. They want and need to hear those stories about Ace.

And above all else, they want people to honor his memory.

“I don’t want anybody to feel like they have to stay away,” Amy Garate said. “Everybody is included. Everybody is welcome. Stop by and say, ‘Hi,’ give a hug. Because even like going through a loss for us is what is so hard. Other people, they lost Ace, too. If they want to come by and say, ‘Hi’ and share stories, we would like that. That’s helped us so much.”

A public celebration of Ace’s life is being held at 7 p.m. tonight at White Auditorium.

The family requests that people wear red or pink to honor Ace.

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