Carly Malanfant remembers those bike rides down by the beach.
Will Laskero-Teskoski was the one with the bike after all, leaving Carly to occupy the seat while the Lake Forest teen pedaled under the summer sun and a carefree feeling in the air.
“I would be holding onto his shoulders, and I knew that he would never let me fall,” Malanfant said.
Will the protector.
The Lake Forest High School freshman left a legacy of putting others before himself, which left the community all the more devastated and stunned at his abrupt exit early Tuesday morning when the 15-year-old was struck and killed by a southbound Metra train while crossing the railroad tracks with the school less than a couple hundred yards away.
Friday, they gathered at Christ Church of Lake Forest to remember their classmate, their friend, their teammate in a memorial service. Another visitation will be held from 4-8 p.m. Monday at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest followed by a mass of Christian burial at 10 a.m. March 6 also at Church of St. Mary.
Malanfant met Will in the summer of 2009 before seventh grade began at Deer Path Middle School. The two connected immediately, she said, and their friendship took root.
“Will was without a doubt my best guy friend and one of my best friends forever,” she told a full house at the church. “He was always there for me, for anyone, no matter what. It could be 4 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon, and he would always be there for you. I can remember nights where I just couldn’t fall asleep, all I had to do was text him, and he would wake up or be up to talk to me.”
Will the listener.
Their shared interests included music, and Malanfant spoke of a small pond near her house where the pair would sit on the little dock, talk and listen to tunes.
“Watching the sunset and talking to him is something I’m not going to forget,” she said. “It would take hours to say every good time I had with Will because it was every day. Every morning, he would be waiting by my locker with a big smile on his face.”
That same smile left a lasting impression on Bennett Petray, who met Will in seventh grade and would be his teammate last fall on the Lake Forest freshman football team.
“We immediately shared the same goofy, sarcastic sense of humor and the same personality,” Petray said. “We could always make each other laugh, and we became instant friends... I’ve never met such a positive, happy, nice kid in my life.”
The pair would meet at school, walk the hallways to classes and meet up afterward. Weekends were spent playing video games, watching movies and walking Will’s dog.
“He was always by my side and I was always by his side,” Petray said. “Every memory I have had with Will is the best. Spending time with him and being with him was all I needed.”
George Kohl, who had known Will since they were small kids and were teammates as well in football, called him “a true friend.”
“Will would go out of his way to say hi to you and make you feel special,” Kohl said. “He made you feel important and that you had a purpose. He cared about you and how you felt. His actions towards others were always profound and sincere.”
Will the companion.
In the classroom, Will’s focus may not have always been on academics, and likely not the first challenge veteran social studies teacher Mark Kuhl has ever come across. But the kid had a way of making Kuhl pull for him.
“I tried to chastise him sometimes, but it was difficult to be angry with him,” Kuhl said. “He had these soulful, expressive eyes, and let me know he knew what he should be doing, but it wasn’t going to quite happen right then.”
And yet a week ago, Will came to Kuhl asking to do makeup work and extra credit so he could become eligible to run on the Scout track team.
“Just a few days ago he came to me with that work proudly done,” Kuhl said. “I looked it over and I thought, ‘This might be a turnaround’.”
The students who come into Kuhl’s classrooms, year after year, look at that time in their lives as such a defining moment when, in fact, it’s simply a prelude to an overture yet to be played.
“They can be like acorns,” Kuhl said. “It might take a long time to see any results or any change. It’s a job of patience. But I think the nurture that you all put in usually is rewarded at some point in the future, sometimes spectacularly so. My greatest regret right now is that I will not see the mighty oak that Will might have become.”
Which is why Kuhl said it was important for students to take Will’s cue and not let his death define him.
“Ask everyone here to listen to a friend,” Kuhl said. “To talk to a friend. To engage in a random act of kindness that makes a stranger life that much better and richer. It might seem small, but it can be very important.”
Will the motivator.
MJ Seiwert, director of middle school ministries at Christ Church, remembered Will with having “a face made for TV and a voice made for radio.”
And now for many of Will’s friends and classmates, his departure leaves them with a multitude of emotions to deal with.
“It will be natural for many of us to be experiencing a whole wide array of emotions from grief, sadness to anger to the frustration of unanswered questions, and even at times the warm nostalgia of great memories with Will,” Seiwert said. “I want to give you permission, and give yourselves permission to experience those different emotions.”
Guilt perhaps is the hardest to shed, forming a multitude of questions like, ‘Why didn’t I do more, Why didn’t I notice, I should have seen what was going on or I should have done something to prevent this accident.’
Seiwert said to let it go.
“This isn’t your fault. There is nothing you could have done to stop this,” Seiwert said. “You have to believe that. Talk to your parents, teachers, coaches or counselors. Give them the permission to speak truth into you, to tell you it’s not your fault. You brought joy into Will’s life just as he brought it into yours. If he were here right now, he would be telling you what a great friend you were and how blessed he was to know you. Let them speak that truth to you and over time, you will be able to let that guilt go.”
And if any of them are feeling the weight of the situation to become too much, Seiwert said it’s important they don’t view reaching out for help as a sign of weakness.
“If you feel yourself backed into a corner or if you ever feel like you are in a room without windows or doors, start pulling on the books on the book shelf because God will provide a secret passageway out of that.”