Life Remembered: Luke Remington challenged classmates with grace, courage
RANTOUL – The term "role model" gets used a lot these days, and it's generally an adult serving as a stellar example for kids.
But Rantoul has lost a role model of a different sort – a child who was worthy of being emulated by all ages, according to those who knew him.
Luke Remington, a fourth-grader at St. Malachy School in Rantoul, died Friday after a long battle with leukemia.
Those who knew him said he lived life and fought his illness with grace and courage.
The youngster didn't want to be a bystander in anything.
"He was not a sideline person at all," said St. Malachy gym teacher Sue Jean, who is also a friend of the Remington family.
She said his classmates saw how much pain and suffering he was going through and yet he was so sharp academically and even athletically that he inspired them to be at their best as well.
"It was a little more focused class because Luke challenged them," Jean said.
"You see him walk into a classroom, and you just can't help but smile. Luke is the kind of person I look up to. He was the kind of role model that could (inspire) even adults."
St. Malachy Principal Jim Flaherty has been around a lot of students in his days as a teacher and an administrator. Yet he called Luke "one of the sweetest kids I have ever had an opportunity to work with."
"He had a wonderful smile. He never complained."
He was a friend to all the students and school officials at St. Malachy.
"Whether it was kindergartners or eighth-graders, they all respected and loved Luke Remington," Flaherty said.
Grief counseling was made available to St. Malachy students Monday. Flaherty estimated 15 to 20 students visited with counselors.
Luke underwent a bone marrow transplant last month at Comer Children's Hospital, Chicago.
Initial tests indicated things were going well, according to his mother, Erin Remington, a teacher at Fisher Grade School.
But her son came down with a virus following the transplant and couldn't shake it.
"It devastated his lungs," Erin Remington said. "We needed that virus to go away, and it wouldn't. His immune system was so suppressed from the transplant. Even with a healthy immune system there's not a whole lot your body can do. You just have to wait it out."
His parents (Erin and Brian), brother Brendan and two uncles were at his bedside when he died. His entire family visited him during the week.
Luke and Brendan Remington were particularly close.
"He loved Brendan and was his biggest fan," Erin Remington said. "Whatever Brendan did he was there to support him and vice versa.
"But they were typical brothers," and had their share of spats.
One came when Luke slipped into Brendan's room to spy on him. Brendan didn't discover his younger brother watching him for 30 minutes – much to his annoyance.
Erin said Luke was a joker and had a sharp wit – a wit more advanced than his years.
"He had a lot of funny little sayings and quirks about him," his mother said. "He liked to dance. He liked to do goofy little dances around the house. He was just a sharp-witted little boy."
The closest his mother ever saw him get to complaining happened on a trip home from St. Louis for treatment. Luke wrote a note to himself, "Leukemia stinks" with leukemia misspelled. His mother agreed with him, but she kept the note as one more thing by which to remember her son.
Erin Remington said her son was stronger than most adults.
"(His ordeal with leukemia) was easier for us to get through ... because of how strong he was," she said.
"He had a strong faith. We didn't talk about funerals. I didn't think it was appropriate, but we would talk some times about not being scared about death. We talked about it without him thinking he had to prepare for it."
His mother said Luke had a heart for others.
While Luke was in first grade, St. Malachy conducted a mission project to study a poor country, pray for the people of that country and collect money for its residents.
Luke studied the Philippines.
"Ever since then, every night when we would say our prayers, he would always pray for the people of the Philippines," Erin said. "After three years he would still pray for the people of the Philippines."
Luke's love for the St. Louis Cardinals is well documented.
Flaherty, meanwhile, is an avid Chicago Cubs fan, and he and Luke used to go round and round about the two teams.
"And I lost every argument," Flaherty said.
"He always had this sly smile (and) penetrating eyes, and a topic he talked about that he just loved was baseball."
Erin Remington said her family's trying times have been made easier by the support of Rantoul and surrounding communities.
A Luke's Team fundraiser sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, for example, was held earlier this month.
Leonard Schmidt, a Knights of Columbus member, said the event, which they called a reunion because another fundraiser was conducted for Luke about two years ago, has raised more than $18,000.
Included in that total was about $850 raised by St. Malachy School students.
Erin Remington said the family has been so impressed by the outpouring.
"The support from Rantoul, Thomasboro, Fisher, Gifford and Champaign has been amazing," she said. "People took up his cause and were so generous, and a lot of the people didn't even know Luke. I'm so grateful this is where we live. There are very good people who live here."