Day of Service honors student's memory
Updated 7:17 pm, Thursday, April 16, 2015
As part of a school assignment at New Canaan Country School three years ago, 10-year-old Kyle A. Markes chose the Magic Johnson Foundation as a charity he thought was deserving of more awareness. A committed fan of NBA basketball, the young Stamford resident told his fellow classmates that Johnson was worthy of admiration for developing a proactive response to his diagnosis of HIV at the time.
It would turn out that his classmates decided Markes, too, is worthy of admiration, and on Saturday, the young boy who lost his battle to childhood leukemia in December 2013, was celebrated, honored and remembered at the school's Kyle A. Markes Day of Service.
"He was a kid who was always about community service," his mother, Jackqueline Markes, said. "If he saw a homeless person on the street he wanted you to empty out your wallet or give them what you were eating."
That spirit of giving, cheerful disposition and willingness to help others is what brought together Markes' family and hundreds of parents and students Saturday for a day of community service -- 15 projects in all. Participants commented on Markes' continual optimism and willingness to help others even as he battled cancer.
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Also in evidence at the event was young Kyle's passion for basketball both as a schoolyard pastime and as a fan.
"Basketball is a good way to remember him because that was his favorite sport," said Kevin Barnard, 12, who was in Kyle's homeroom in third grade.
Barnard said from the beginning of their friendship, Kyle's upbeat attitude and demeanor made him someone people wanted to be around.
"He always had a smile on his face and even if you weren't in a good mood he would put you in a good mood," Barnard said.
Even when critically ill and being treated at Smilow Cancer Center, Kyle launched a bracelet-looming project to support Mikey's Way Foundation, which raises money to give Kindles, iPads, and other electronic gadgets to children suffering from cancer, Country School Director of Community Development Lynn Sullivan said.
"Kyle was vibrant, fun, and always entertaining, but what you may not know is that even during his most challenging trials he mustered up the energy to start a bracelet-looming fundraiser from his bedside at the Smilow Hospital," Sullivan said. "He loved New Canaan Country School and we loved him back -- deeply."
Service projects for the day included outdoor cleanups and activities that encourage a healthy lifestyle and a focus on groups like Delete Blood Cancer, which registers potential bone marrow transplant donors, and the Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital, cancer-related causes that the Markes family remain involved in, they said.
On Saturday, Jackqueline Markes said she and her husband, Walter, spent the day talking to children about the importance of service, and said she watched kindergarteners at New Canaan Country School put together bags of activities and toys for children who are now being treated for cancer at the Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital.
"I just spoke to them a little bit about why they are doing it and why it is so important," she said. "It's beautiful because a lot of these children were his classmates and it is still like a family. It is a beautiful day and we're enjoying it."
The final event of the day was a fundraising basketball tournament on Kyle's Court. The renovated court with four basketball hoops was dedicated to Kyle's memory last year.
Before the tournament began, Head of the Middle School Kirsten Rosolen presented Jackqueline and Walter Markes with framed photographs and text in tribute to Kyle's memory.
"So that you know that your Country School community will always remember the gift you've given us," Rosolen said.
Kristen Ball, who was Kyle's homeroom teacher in his last year at the school, said Kyle showed a mature understanding for his age of the importance of both the community of the school and the role people should play in contributing to society.
She remembered a return visit he made to the school during his treatment when he took part in the class's annual service awareness project in which students highlighted a particular cause they thought was worthy of attention. Among other causes, Kyle's classmates chose Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, the type of cancer Kyle suffered.
"He loved being part of groups that gave back to his communities," Ball said. "He was just the greatest kid."