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Memories of Lucas still inspiring CJ community

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Chamiande Julienne seniors Joe Hoeft, John Carper, Conor Hickey and Ben Reis place a racing bib at Lucas Pfander's grave at Calvary Cemetery. The photo inset is of Pfander. (Courtesy Photos)
Chamiande Julienne seniors Joe Hoeft, John Carper, Conor Hickey and Ben Reis place a racing bib at Lucas Pfander's grave at Calvary Cemetery. The photo inset is of Pfander. (Courtesy Photos)

By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph 

Through the end of his junior year at Chaminade Julienne High School, 17-year-old Lucas Pfander had maintained perfect attendance.

The fact that he’d never missed a day only made his absence at the start of the next school year seem that much larger. On July 11, 2008, the summer before his senior year, Lucas died in a boating accident, ending all too soon a life that touched many people.

In the years that have followed, his memory lives on in the form of various memorials, the largest of which is the annual Lucas Pfander Alumni Memorial Race, benefitting a scholarship in his name.

The race is free, but donations are accepted for the scholarship fund. T-shirts and wristbands are also sold.

The school colors at Chaminade Julienne are green and blue, but you’d be forgiven if you went by the school on race day and assumed the colors were green, blue and orange. Orange was Lucas’ favorite color, and hundreds of orange wristbands and t-shirts worn by current and former students help to carry on his legacy.

By all accounts, Lucas was a stand-out student. He ran cross country and competed on the swimming and men’s volleyball teams. He was an honors student and he was known for living out his faith through community service. He was even an altar server at Holy Angels church.

“He was one of those students who just stood out from the bunch as super happy, positive, helpful,” said Greg Mueller, an assistant men’s cross country coach at CJ. “He was one of those people that people are naturally attracted too. He had tons of friends. He was a really big people person.”

When Lucas died, his family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Chaminade Julienne Tuition Assistance Fund. Many people responded, and eventually the Lucas Pfander Scholarship was born. The scholarship, given each year to a rising senior that embodies the characteristics Lucas was known to exhibit, started off as a $1,000 gift, but has now risen to $3,000. Yearly tuition at CJ runs $8,200 per year, meaning the scholarship can provide significant assistance.

Lucas’ parents, Greg and Daisy, present the scholarship at the yearly academic awards banquet at the school. The family has remained involved in the CJ community to this day.

“We spend a lot of time down there between seeing all of his friends graduate and some of their younger siblings that we’ve known,” Travis Pfander, Lucas’ brother, said. “We see them around town sometimes wearing the race shirts or the wristbands we’ve been selling ever since he passed away. We think its a great testament to what he meant to the community, what he meant to that school.

“My mom and dad have attended (the banquet) ever since I was there and I started there in 2003,” he added. “They’ve been going every year since between me and my brother and giving the scholarship away.”

The Pfanders living situation is unique. Travis, who now lives in New York, and Lucas grew up at Calvary Cemetery, where their parents still live as caretakers. Lucas is buried there as well.

In addition to the race and scholarship, other memorials exist to honor Lucas. The cemetery is located about two miles from the school, and every so often the cross country team will make the run there and back. While there, they stop at Lucas’ grave to remember their fallen teammate with prayer.

In 2012, the cross country team made it to the state championship meet, a feat they’d not accomplished in many years. The team chose to make the run to the cemetery again, leaving their race bibs behind.

“If you go and visit his headstone, you’ll always see little mementos,” Mueller said. “His favorite color was orange, so there’s these orange bracelets that everybody wears so you might see those… Often times the cross country team or one of the coaches will run a race and leave their race number bib at his grave.

“Last year was a big year for our team making state for the first time in many, many years,” Mueller added. “(The team) decided it would be appropriate to go tell Lucas about it.”

For Lucas’ family, the yearly reminder of the race and the daily mementos at his grave serve not as much as a reminder of his untimely death, but rather as statement of how much he meant to their community while he was alive.

“To see that kind of support from students who knew him through older siblings or just from being around the community to come pay that homage to him and what he left behind, we just love it,” Travis said. “It could be one of these downer type of things but we don’t view it that way.

“I was in college at the time all this happened so I was away from home and this is certainly something I turn to to remember him by,” he added. “It helped keep me going from afar. Now I fly back for the race every year. It is a great event not only to gather alumni around and to honor him, but to feel that same sense of community that I felt when I was a student there.”

The fifth annual race took place at Chaminade Julienne Aug. 10 with more than 170 runners participating. In addition, for the second consecutive year, the CJ alumni office invited anyone who couldn’t make it to campus to instead print a race bib from their website and run for Lucas from anywhere, calling it the “Virtual Lucas Pfander Alumni Race.”

The first four years of the race included many students that knew Lucas personally. The fact that the race continues to grow, and that the team still runs to the cemetery, even five years later is a testament to just what kind of person Lucas was.

“It has been five years, so the guys on the team for the most part never met Lucas and never knew him but they still keep the tradition alive,” Mueller said. “They know of him…It’s almost like the school has developed orange as the third main color of our school. We’re a blue and green school but you’ll see students walking down the hall with orange bracelets, and it is not just the cross country runners.”

For more information, or to contribute to the Lucas Pfander scholarship fund, contact the CJ Alumni office at 937-461-3740, ext. 201.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 edition of The Catholic Telegraph

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