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Another year is in the books at Willis Classical Academy (WCA), one that started with an unexpected funeral and ended with the ultimate show of gratitude for a teacher who will long be remembered.

Kimberly Benaski unexpectedly passed away on August 13, 2017, at the age of 45, a week before the start of the school year.  Now that the year is coming to a close, the students and staff thought of the perfect way to immortalize their beloved math teacher.

The WCA yearbook dedication page to Ms. Benaske

They honored Mrs. Benaski by dedicating this year’s yearbook in her memory. Multiple co-workers describe her as a person who exceeded expectations and was very involved in the school. “She was great with the kids and constantly went above and beyond. She was always there for us and held multiple roles at the campus,” said Heather Schoenfeld, ResponsiveEd director of math.

Just before the first day of school, Mrs. Benaski’s celebration of life was held at Family Faith Church, which shares a building with WCA. Many past and current students and staff attended the service along with about 500 others whose lives she touched. Benaske’s family gave an opportunity for students to speak and, Melissa Burns, WCA receptionist and family friend, says that this helped the school cope with the loss.

Larry Benaske (left), Melissa Burns, Avery and Brendan Benaske

“Seeing her family deal with the loss as strongly as they have has helped the students a lot,” says Burns. “She was our math teacher, but she was so much more. She sponsored our student council, helped with the yearbook, organized the junior high social nights and things like that.  She just always went the extra mile.”

Burns went on to say that the staff felt it was important to not let the projects Benaski cared about fall through the cracks, including the yearbook. In this year’s yearbook, there is a dedication page which shows pictures and a message saying, She dressed impeccably, loved unconditionally, taught passionately, and lived creatively every moment of every day.

Willis Classical Academy invited Mrs. Benaski’s family to the yearbook signing day and surprised her two sons, daughter and husband with their own personalized yearbooks, which included family pictures gathered by the staff. “They were about to go on a month-long trip to Europe and Thailand to spread her ashes like she requested. It was the best send-off for them to hear again how special their mom was and is to this school,” said Burns.

While at the school, Benaske’s daughter, and fellow teacher, Cali saw the students working on artwork for a school fundraiser. She was invited by Ms. Aclin, the art teacher, to make her own piece of art that will be displayed at the art show. Burns says that this was Cali’s first year teaching and was looking forward to decorating her classroom with her mom.

Cali Benaski (center) with WCA art teachers Holly Pampell and Mary Aclin

“They’re such strong people, raised by a strong woman,” says Burns. “They know that her legacy goes on.”

At the August celebration of life, Mrs. Benaske’s family said that their mom would have wanted them to continue doing what she did: work hard, serve hard, and love hard. Burns says that’s what they have done moving forward and that Mrs. Benaske will always have a special place in the hearts of those at Willis Classical Academy.

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