Nov. 23, 2011 - A Grand Project: Honoring Theresa Kroes
November 23, 2011 08:00 AM
By Lou Hillman, News 8000
NORTH FOND DU LAC, Wis. -- The moment Theresa Kroes was hired at the North Fond du Lac school district she noticed something was missing.
"It had to be a Yamaha and she knew that right away," said Gerry Scudella, the district's band director.
As the district’s new choral director, Kroes volunteered to help raise money to buy a new grand piano. She started planning a number of fundraisers, including a concert where her brother Andy would perform. Andy just happens to be a professional opera singer.
Their parents, Jeff and Paula, say the plan was for Theresa to accompany Andy on the piano.
"Theresa loved to accompany. She loved to play the piano, no doubt about it but the solo work was never as important for her as being support for someone," said Jeff Kroes.
At the same time, the 23-year-old was also teaching summer music classes to elementary and middle school students. Those who hired her, say she built a remarkable rapport with the students in just one short week.
"They just adored her because she knew them all by name," said Scudella.
Theresa's first week of full-time teaching, however, would be her last. She was back home in Onalaska that weekend to visit her family. While out with four friends, their vehicle was rear-ended by a drunk driver.
All were injured but Kroes was the only one to die.
"After 5 months, it''s still unreal," said Jeff Kroes.
Scudella says the news devastated Theresa's students.
"One kid said 'well is she coming back?' because they didn't quite understand," said Scudella.
"I think one then said...'no I think God wanted her in heaven because she's such a good piano player and singer'," explained Scudella.
With Theresa gone, the grand piano project could have easily been forgotten. The school district and her brother wanted to make sure that didn't happen.
"For them to get this piano here and have it be in her honor is the perfect legacy because so many people can come through these doors and use that piano to show the community the kinds of things they can produce," said Andy Kroes.
After months of planning, on Tuesday night, the North Fond du Lac community filled the high school auditorium to pay tribute to a teacher they barely knew.
"I think that's a rare in individual that can touch people so quickly and that's Theresa," said Jeff Kroes.
Andy and his beautiful baritone voice took the stage, with the new piano at his side.
Jeff and Paula Kroes watched from the audience, knowing that it was supposed to be Theresa playing for Andy.
"Of all the things we do and remember, sometimes music is the hardest," said Jeff Kroes.
But the piano will help make sure their daughter's dream of sharing music lives on, even if Theresa won't be the one to play it.
"Her smile will always be in my memory because I think about her everyday because I think about what could have been," said Scudella.
"All of this has been a tragedy for us and our family. I often think it’s nearly as tragic for the people and students that won't have the opportunity to learn from her," said Jeff Kroes.
The concert helped the district reach about 1/3 of its fundraising goal for the $30,000 grand piano.