Benefit supports bereaved family the day after son's death
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Feb. 25, 2013
On the day after their little boy, Koen, died of a brain tumor, the Banker family of Griswold found themselves surrounded by a town that had spent weeks rallying to support them. Clad in green “Karing 4 Koen” t-shirts, the boy’s parents, siblings and grandparents shared a table at the benefit supper at Griswold Elementary School with framed portraits of the unseen guest of honor, 4-year-old Koen.
“I didn’t expect there to be so much love and support,” said Tabitha Banker, Koen’s mother. “I’m very thankful for all [the volunteers] did. I don’t care about the money; it doesn’t matter. It’s all about a community loving a little boy who gave so much heart, and they gave it right back.”
Griswold High School music teacher Ray Churchill said he and the other performers got word of Koen’s death just after the final cabaret rehearsal Friday night. The news hit him “like a kick in the gut,” he said. “Everybody was very emotional last night. But we weren’t going to let the family down. It’s game time for Koen now.”
Churchill was one of the moving forces behind the Feb. 23 “Karing 4 Koen” benefit supper and cabaret, which had been weeks in the planning. Raffles, auctions, and musical performances accompanied two seatings at a pasta supper, which sold out at 230 tickets each. The event, staffed by a small army of green-shirted volunteers, ran like clockwork despite a last-minute schedule adjustment, moving the seating times up to complete the event ahead of the predicted snowfall.
“The whole thing just started with a friendship between a 3- and a 4-year-old,” said Brian Stevenson, a music teacher in Plainfield whose daughter, Grace, was in Koen’s pre-K class at GES. Knowing of Koen’s illness, Grace asked if her family could hold a supper for him. “We thought, ‘How can we help?’” he said. Starting with a network of local music educators, the plan grew into a day-long, community-wide event.
Churchill joined forces with music staff from Plainfield and Woodstock to put together two cabaret-style concerts, featuring ensembles and soloists from all three school systems. The entertainment accompanied a pasta supper, basket raffle and auction. Even the school custodians contributed their services.
“We took no money out of the proceeds to pay anybody,” he said. “Everything was donated; 100 percent goes to the family.” He said that the event achieved its fundraising goal of $12,000 before anyone even walked in the door.
“It’s a wonderful testament to a beautiful child,” said GES Principal Sue Rourke. “The family’s here – they’re strong.” She said that the Banker family just moved to Griswold last fall, and they already knew of Koen’s diagnosis and informed the school system of his health issues. “It’s going to be difficult for the staff here who have come to know him and love him as we do any child here," Rourke said. She said that the school would make emotional support services available for any staff, parents and students who need help dealing with Koen’s death.
Banker described Koen as an outgoing, fun-loving little boy who loved school and had a knack for making friends wherever he went. His standard greeting for new people was “Hi, my name’s Koen. Hi, friends!” He had an upbeat attitude even when faced with adversity, she said. “He was okay with getting chemotherapy. He would say, ‘I’m going to my hospital.’”
Churchill said that the overwhelming turnout proves that “in the town of Griswold and eastern Connecticut, when families are in trouble, we come running.”
Stevenson agreed. “In the Quiet Corner, the community steps up every single time,” he said. “It just makes you feel good about where you live and work.”
Banker said she’s grateful for the money raised, which will help with the family’s medical expenses. Since they moved to town, “I didn’t work very much because I wanted to be with Koen. But all I care about is that everybody loved Koen as much as he loved everybody,” she said.