GENOA – If it weren’t for her pink bandana, you could have lost Lori Stone amid a sea of children vying for a chance to hug the staffer they love so dearly.
Funny. Without that bandana, you’d likely never know Stone, a special needs teacher’s aide, has been battling breast cancer since April.
“She stayed positive from the beginning – never once cried or showed weakness,” Stone’s 27-year-old daughter, Stefani Barrier, said while people flocked around her mom.
Stone, 49, had to donate $1 to be allowed to wear that bandana. Little did she know that buck would come back like a boomerang. It’s one of $2,600 the elementary school’s students, staff and families raised to help offset Stone’s medical expenses. The finishing touch was $301 in funds donated for the right to wear pink.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Stone said as children tearfully waved to her and headed back to class. “I didn’t expect this. I thought it was a fundraiser for breast cancer, not for me.”
She was diagnosed April 24 and has undergone chemotherapy. He’ll soon have a lumpectomy before starting radiation.
How does she show up to work every day with a smile?
“Look at all these beautiful people,” Stone said.
Among them was Vicki Rahn, another teacher’s aide who was diagnosed in July 2017 and finished her treatment in December.
“When I’d start feeling sorry for myself, I’d think of her,” Stone said. “Whenever she would come to school, she was alway smiling, never negative. She was always positive. That’s how you’ve got to be.”
Rahn said Thursday morning’s gesture was only appropriate, with the love Stone has spread during her 13 years with the district. She spent 11 years at since-closed Davenport Elementary School, where she worked in the learning center and as a nurse’s aide. She’s in her second year at Genoa Elementary.
“She’s such a sweet, sweet person, and she was such a blessing to my children, when they were in school at Davenport,” said Rahn, who donated cash to Stone's fight. “I know what it’s like to be there. Even if you have good insurance, there’s still the costs of food and transportation, and so many other things that take money, that insurance doesn’t cover.”
It took Stone a few minutes to realize what was unfolding at the assembly, as she noticed her two daughters, Stefani Barrier and Rachael Stone, 25, and her grandchild, Rachael’s 2 1/2-year-old son, Jaxon.
“Jaxon Earl Peterson, he’s what keeps me going,” she said, looking over at Jaxon, who was playing on the bleachers in his bright pink shirt. “Real men wear pink.”
Tina Kuhn, a nurse’s aide at the elementary school, spearheaded the effort.
“I told Tina, ‘Don’t make a spectacle,’ ” Stone said. “She made a spectacle.”
With a lot of help, she did. The students sold 903 pink bracelets, 97 “Stone Strong” T-shirts, and put “Change for the Cure” buckets in classrooms.
Several families made outright donations, including the Lucio family, which donated the money it planned to use to go to Disney World for Angelina Lucio’s eighth birthday last week. For years, they’d put all their extra coins in a jar, and Angelina’s mom, Corrina, proposed donating it.
“My mom decided to bring it in,” said Angelina, a third-grader.“It made me happy because she needs it more than us. We’ll go next year.”
Before swarming Stone, the students wriggled in the bleachers and swelled with pride as Principal John Francis lauded them.
“The cool thing about the fundraiser you participated in, is there was no reward,” he told them. “What you did was selfless. There was no competition. There was no pizza party. What you did was you simply gave. You showed kindness, and that shows an immense amount of character.”
You know, the sort of character it takes to raise a rockstar like Stone – right, mom?
“She’s just so good,” her mom, Penny Lee, said through tears. “She’s such a sweet strong person, and I’m very proud of her.”