Friends and classmates of Greta Schoenemann, a Westfield High School student who passed away in 2002, have organized a 5K Run/Walk, 'Greta's Run,' in her honor.
Schoenemann, remembered by friends for her kindness and humor, was only one week into her freshman year when a tree limb fell on her and nine friends as they ate lunch outside WHS on September 11, 2002. Schoenemann sustained grave injuries and died four days later.
The run, organized by Ben Nanna and Jayne Ruotolo in partnership with the Westfield Y, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 15, the 11th anniversary of Schoenemann's passing.
Ruotolo explained how the event originated. "I came up with the idea last summer, as I was reflecting on the almost ten years that had passed since Greta’s death," she said. "I had spent most of those anniversaries finding my own way to honor Greta’s memory, but I wanted to do something that would bring everyone together to celebrate her life.
"As a former WHS cross-country runner, I decided a race would be perfect. So I reached out to the Schoenemanns and to some of Greta’s friends for help putting it together."
It was Nanna, who attended Franklin Elementary and Roosevelt Intermediate schools with Schoenemann, who thought to contact the Westfield Area Y to help sponsor the event. Both Nanna and Ruotolo wanted the run to support a cause that was close to Schoenemann's heart.
"Jayne and I chose for it to benefit Special Needs programming because Greta’s sister Elise has Cerebral Palsy," he said. "Greta grew up volunteering at Camp Chatterbox and Children’s Specialized Hospital, where her sister and my cousin Christian Panarese were enrolled in activities and therapies together."
Ruotolo and Nanna both hope the run will elicit a community effort and bring out the generosity of spirit in others that was one of Schoenemann's most memorable traits.
"Raising a lot of money is crucial," Nanna said. "Programming for people with special needs is expensive and often inconveniently located throughout the tri-state area. This is about funding access, good health, and high spirits.
"Jayne and I want everyone to know whatever they can contribute has value. No donation or volunteer effort is lost in the bucket. It all comes together; every person and every dollar is important and appreciated."
On the website, an excerpt from Schoenemann's journal is shared that illustrates Greta's spirit. Written in fall 2001, it reads, "Whenever I am running and I start to get tired, I just think of Elise and how she'll never be able to run; so I just keep running for her."
Nanna remembered Schoenemann as "a natural friend to everybody she met."
"It was a quality that made everyone feel welcome while she was alive, and brought everyone together after she passed away," he said. "She was selfless, wise, and humored. We walked home together, picking up my brother Jonathon on the way, and painted murals that have since been removed in Roosevelt’s halls. She was beautiful and I was an awkward string bean; she was an incredible person and made me feel like I was important.
"Everyone, despite any real or perceived adversity, deserves the opportunity to be great at something, to feel like they’ve contributed and were worthy. We want the story of and funds raised from Greta’s Run to accomplish that."
"I wholeheartedly believe this will be a fun event that brings the Westfield community together to celebrate the life of a truly special young woman who called Westfield her home," Ruotolo aded. "I feel it is important for Westfield to express to Greta’s family that their daughter and sister is still loved by others and will never be forgotten."
Those interested in participating can create fundraising pages, donate or sponsor Greta’s Run. Information for how to do this is located on the website. For more information or to sign up, visit http://www.westfieldynj.org/community/gretasrun