ST. JOHN — Just call him King Jacob.
That’s the new nickname for 18-year-old senior Jacob Kiefor, who on Saturday was named Lake Central High School’s prom king.
Kiefor, born with Down syndrome, has a smile that lights up his bright blue eyes when he talks about that night.
“Wow. I was shocked. I actually did it. ... It’s a good memory,” Kiefor said.
His prom date, Camryn Halfeldt, a junior, said she and Kiefor’s younger sister, Jessi Kiefor, launched a social media campaign prior to the prom to promote Jacob for prom king.
Their campaign coupled with Jacob’s popularity earned him a shot at the crown. He was one of five seniors nominated by teachers.
The announcement of his victory was met with a raucous round of cheers, applause and congratulations, Halfeldt said.
“Everyone was screaming. I gave him a big hug,” she said.
Melanie Bennitt, Kiefor’s mother, said her son has always been a very social person even as a young child.
“He loves everybody and will go up to complete strangers and ask them how their day was,” Bennitt said.
As a parent, Bennitt said she has always worried about her son and the reaction from others to his disability.
Bennitt credits the Lake Central School Corp., where Kiefor has attended since he was 3, for maintaining what she called a “wonderful” environment.
“As a mom you always worry he’s going to be picked on and it’s been the complete opposite,” Bennitt said.
Bennitt said the entire school district has embraced Kiefor.
“It’s not like it used to be when I was in school. They look out for him and protect him,” Bennitt said.
Edward Beck, the high school’s assistant principal, said Kiefor is one of the most popular at a high school of some 3,200 students.
“He’s so well liked by students and staff that he’s the unofficial mayor,” Beck said.
Halfeldt said she and Kiefor became friends through a high school organization called Best Buddies, in which special needs students are paired with other students to socialize and play games.
The invitation to the prom grew from that bond.
After Kiefor was crowned king and fellow senior Melanie Stepanovic named queen, the remainder of the night was filled with dancing at the Halls of St. George in Schererville, Halfeldt said.
“He danced the entire night,” Halfeldt said.
“When we had our first dance, after the crowning, he turned to me and said, ‘Thank you for making my dreams come true,’ “ Halfeldt said.
Kiefor, who graduates from Lake Central in a couple of weeks, hopes to travel this summer with family members to either Texas or California.
He’ll be enrolled in a transition assistance program this fall to help him make the transition from high school to a career, with his hopes of working in an office with his own desk.
“He wants to get a career and live his life like everyone else,” Bennitt said.
Kiefor said he hopes his experience with being named high school prom king will serve as an inspiration to others like him who are born with disabilities.
“People like us with Down syndrome ... this is your time to shine,” Kiefor said.