One was a longtime music teacher at Montville High School who directed numerous plays and musicals before succumbing to brain cancer at the age of 55 in April.The other was a 17-year old high school senior, stricken four years before with leukemia, a disease that slowly ebbed out his young life. He died in December.
Both were remembered this week at the high school, when the junior class sponsored a two-day walkathon on Tuesday and Wednesday in their honor.
The teacher, Jan Kucher-Patenaude, inspired two decades of students with her infectious smile, passion for music and exuberance for life.
The student, Antonio Colabelli, was known as a fighter to his classmates and teachers, who never complained when his cancer returned after a year in remission, and he had to be home-schooled at the start of his senior year.
Students have been collecting donations in homeroom all week and will continue to accept them until June 2, said Derek Sica, who is the junior class co-advisor and K-12 supervisor of world languages and ESL.
In addition, all proceeds from the walkathon will go towards medical expenses incurred by both the Patenaude and Colabelli families.
The total amount raised had not been determined as of Wednesday.
Junior class officers decided to hold a walkathon similar to one held for victim’s families at Robert R. Lazar Middle School after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, said Donna DeMarco, junior class co-adviser.
“It’s one way we can come together again to help and show the families that we support them and their memories will live on,” said Sica.
On Wednesday afternoon, students hit the high school track for the second day of the walkathon. Money was raised through pledges for distance walked.
Six gym classes comprising nearly 150 students walked in unison, with many completing four or more laps in the 25-minute time period.
Cindy Beradino and Pat Vytell, two of the six gym teachers supervising the walk, said they were close to Kucher-Patenaude, or K-P, as she was affectionately called by both faculty and students.
“She was a dynamic teacher,”added gym teacher John Schulien. “The kids just loved her.”
Seva Kuznetsov, a 17-year old junior, said Kucher-Patenaude was instrumental in aiding his jazz band.
“She really helped us out,”said Kuznetsov. “She had so much spirit.”
Junior Jamie Grummer said the walkathon originally began as a fundraiser for the Colabelli family. When Kucher-Patenaude passed away last month, the students decided they would walk for both families.
“I think it’s important because their families really need a lot of money,” said Grummer, 17.
Fellow junior Chelsea Kramer, 17, said she sold orange rubber cancer bracelets representing leukemia to raise money for the Colabelli family after Antonio died.
“I had some classes with him,” said Kramer. “It was hard to be close to him because he wasn’t in class a lot but he was the sweetest kid.”
Karen Potucek, who was Colabelli’s teacher for four years, said he was “such a fighter.”
“He just wanted to be in school, and have a normal life,”said Potucek. “He didn’t want anybody to know there was anything wrong with him.”
The district held fundraisers for Colabelli last year and a cabaret and silent auction was recently held for Kucher-Patenaude at Drew University, where her husband is chair of the theater arts department.
But the medical expenses for both families have been staggering, and events like the walkathon are worthwhile, said Beradino.
“It’s amazing what these kids have done to help these two families,” added Potucek. “It’s just a really wonderful thing.”