Teen to sing heartfelt tribute to grandmother

Photos by Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Forest Park sophomore Katie Winkler played a song on her ukulele while practicing a skit with her Destination Imagination team last week in Ferdinand. Winkler recently helped her team of six advance to the global finals after she placed first in the competition's talent contest with a song she wrote about her deceased grandmother.


FERDINAND — When Forest Park sophomore Katie Winkler wrote the song that recently won her Destination Imagination team $2,000 and secured them a spot in the competition’s global finals, she hadn’t planned on sharing it with anyone outside of her family.

The two-minute piece titled “Made Me” — which features her singing while playing the ukulele — is a heartfelt tribute to her grandmother, Phyllis Winkler, who died from metastatic breast cancer around this time last year.


Katie’s parents, Alan and Debbie Winkler, cried when she played it for them last summer. More tears spilled when she sang it for other family members throughout the year. And of course, after her original work was named the best out of around 120 worldwide video submissions in the DI Talent Contest, the waterworks surged once more for Katie.

“That was the first time I’d written anything by myself, so it was basically the first song I’d ever written,” she said of the song. “I just took my memories, the most prominent ones, and put them on paper.”

The song is intimate and personal, but her DI team needed funding, and Katie already had a video recording of her performing it. So with only a few nerve-racking minutes left in the submission window — which ended at 11:59 p.m. on March 26 — the song was sent, and the rest is history.

The 16-year-old will also perform “Made Me” live at the global finals’ closing celebration pre-show in Thompson-Boling Arena on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, May 27. The organization’s global finals website says more than 17,000 guests will be in attendance, including more than 8,000 students from 15 countries.

Katie would frequently visit Phyllis’ house from the time she was born to when she was entering her teenage years. She credited her grandmother with sparking her creative energy in the time they spent together. They often read books and played games with Katie’s siblings, Garrett and Grant, as well as other children Phyllis babysat.

“She inspired me to be more creative as a child,” Katie reflected. “I think as I’ve grown up, I’ve tried to kindle that into whatever I can make of it.”

DI Communications Coordinator Tina Shaffer said she and a panel of four other DI staffers sifted through the video entries and judged them on their creativity, originality and talent. She said it wasn’t an easy task — a wide variety of videos were submitted, including those highlighting musicians, acrobats, unicycle riders and more.

But Katie’s video struck a chord with the panel.

“I think we were all in agreement that she was definitely (at) the top of our list from the moment that we saw the video,” Shaffer said. “For me personally, it was a combination of her talents and playing the ukulele and also that she was performing a song that she had written.”

Destination Imagination is a educational non-profit organization primarily run by volunteers. Each year, DI contests are hosted on the regional, state and global level and task competing students with completing various STEM- and arts-related challenges. The organization also fosters the video submission talent contest, with the winner’s team getting a guaranteed pass to the worldwide finale regardless of placement at the state and regional competitions.

Winkler sang a song to freshman Makayla McKim while playing her ukulele before she practiced with her Destination Imagination team last week.

Katie’s team, “It’s a Colorful Life, is comprised of fellow Forest Park High School students Maggie Brown, Courtney Borman, Hannah Borden, Audrey Jones and Makayla McKim.

They placed third in the fine arts category at the state tournament last month but will get a chance to perform their roughly 8-minute skit in the finals. Normally, only the top two teams from each division (elementary, middle and senior) and three wild card teams advance from state to the global contest, but Katie’s placement in the talent contest pushed them forward.

Katie also spearheaded the writing of her DI group’s skit, which features a grandmother reading a child a bedtime story.

“She’s a part of everything I do,” Katie said of Phyllis. “When I think of stories, I think of things I love.”

Katie lives in Ferdinand with her parents. She is the drum major for the Forest Park Marching Rangers and recently played one of the Three Blind Mice in the school’s musical production of “Shrek.”

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