Like so many others who spent time with Lorrie Hamblen, a physcial education teacher at Kaneland Harter Middle School, it didn’t take long for Blake Mayerle, school services manager for the Sugar Grove Park District, to recognize she was special.
Her sudden passing in March from a pulmonary embolism hit him hard, but he found a way to ensure that some Kaneland children didn’t lose out on fun, energy-burning activities after her death.
Hamblen had planned on hosting an array of team games as well as kickball for groups of elementary students at John Shields this spring. Rather than canceling the after-school intramurals, Mayerle stepped in and led them in her absence.
And thanks to Mayerle’s selfless actions, $1,120 was collected for Hamblen's grandson Noah, who has a rare genetic disorder that causes seizures and development regression and thus requires constant care and monitoring by medical professionals.
“I worked with Lorrie for six years when I was over at John Shields and then she worked for me this year for a couple of weeks so I know the impact she has on the kids and they really enjoyed her classes,” he said. “And she also worked for the park district so I knew there were more classes that would be outstanding, so basically when I found out the horrible news, which was on my day off, I went to the school and in the office and told (Park District Executive Director) Karen (Pritchard) that I wanted to teach the classes and donate (Hamblen’s) cut to Noah.”
At the same time these much-needed funds were being raised, kids were able to enjoy the benefits of the after-school programming, including fifth grader Will Klish, who played a key role in assisting Mayerle.
Klish has been participating in such after-school programs for a few years now, and he was also fond of Hamblen, who spent 15 years as a full-time teacher in the Kaneland district.
“I was signed up the whole time and haven’t missed a session since first grade,” Klish said. “There was a girl who wasn’t there for the end of a session and then at the next one she was asking where Mrs. Hamblen was. That was pretty hard to deal with. It had a big impact on me. I think it did for all of us.”
Mayerle is in that same company.
“It was everything,” he said. “It was emotional and tough and it was fun. I enjoy working with kids and some of the kids mentioned that Mrs. Hamblen is watching us. She genuinely did care about the kids in every aspect of their school life.”
And while she’s irreplaceable, when people, such as an adult like Mayerle steps up and a kid mature beyond his years like Klish lends a helping hand, life goes on and that sadness begins to fade away.
“Blake spent eight to 10 years working with the elementary school and that age group and setting up games,” Pritchard said. “I’m so proud that he came up with that idea because parents had signed their kids up, and it was a sad time, but the kids were still able to do something and do it in her memory.”