"At school, you might have seen her smiling and skipping down the hallway, giving a child a hug or helping a coworker."
CHAMPAIGN — Paula Gaddis wanted her friends to enjoy running as much as she did, so she invited them to join her in the five-kilometer division of the 2013 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon.
A year later, those same friends have organized another 5K, spaghetti dinner and silent auction to benefit the family of the Pesotum woman.
She's survived by a husband, a son, a stepdaughter and toddler twins.
Mrs. Gaddis was a first-grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary School. She died Sept. 23, 2013, after developing an infection in her heart.
Stephanie Merkle had never run a race before her friend encouraged her.
"She said, 'Stephanie, if I can do this, you can do it,' and we did it," Merkle said. "I hadn't run before. She was absolutely my inspiration to even start running."
Kenwood teachers helped organize the upcoming event, which takes place Saturday, starting at her old school.
"It shows how much Paula meant to the school and all the kids," says parent Kathy Hug. Brandy Meyer, a friend who has since moved into Mrs. Gaddis' first grade classroom, called her colleague "an amazing teacher and a good friend and a fantastic mother."
"We had our youngest about the same time," Meyer said.
"It was moving to take over her classroom. The 5K is supposed to be a remembrance for us to help celebrate her life. She was such a joyous person, and she gave so much to others, so we're trying to give back to her family."
Merkle recalls that Mrs. Gaddis and she were aides together 14 years ago at Garden Hills Elementary School in Champaign.
Both of the aides became teachers.
About five years ago, Merkle said, "She was my student teacher. She was in the district over 10 years."
Mrs. Gaddis then became a first-grade teacher. Merkle said she was exceptional.
"She was so full of life; people were drawn to her. You felt better after you had been around Paula. There's still so many memories of her at Kenwood," Merkle said.
She sees the late teacher as forever young.
"At school, you might have seen her smiling and skipping down the hallway, giving a child a hug or helping a coworker," Merkle said. "Paula was a teacher who gave everything she had to help the children and families she worked with."
But while pregnant with her now 2-year-old twins, she was hospitalized and developed an infection that settled in her heart, Merkle said.
Mrs. Gaddis delivered her healthy babies, but had to undergo open-heart surgery to replace a valve.
Last September, Merkle said, Mrs. Gaddis was getting ready to go on fall break when the heart infection forced her into the hospital, and she died Sept. 23.
Kenwood Cares 5K
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday, following a kids 1K race.
WHERE: Start/finish line is at Kenwood Elementary, 1001 S. Stratford Dr., C.
SIGNUPS: Registration is $25. Deadline is midnight Friday. Runners can also register the day of the race for $30, but won't get a T-shirt unless they pay $7.
FOR MORE: Visit kenwoodcares5k.weebly.com