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Kindergartener goes extra mile for sick teacher

Kindergartener Will Cymbaluk decided he wanted to do something for his teacher, Colleen Knoop, who is undergoing cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic. DL NEWSPAPERS/Paula Quam2 / 2

Detroit Lakes kindergartener Will Cymbaluk is super shy — there’s no doubt about that.

But his young instinct to help still outweighs any desire to hide … because after all, his teacher needs him.

“My teacher has cancer and I’m having a lemonade stand and a bake sale and an auction to help her,” Will tells local business owners and other grownups that might be inclined to help. “Would you donate something?” he musters up the courage to ask.

Will’s kindergarten teacher, Colleen Knoop, who Will calls “really nice,” had to leave her classroom at the beginning of last month to undergo cancer treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Will wanted to do something to show her he cared, but flowers were tough to coordinate because he never knew exactly where she was, and Knoop’s fellow teachers had already taken charge of bringing her meals.

 But there’s one thing little Will knew from his summer experience — lemonade stands.

Once Will got his teacher’s permission to put on a tangy little fundraiser, his mom, Mandy, helped him coordinate with Rossman Elementary, where he goes to school.

Officials there gave the green light for Will to set up a lemonade stand in the school on the evenings of parent-teacher conferences, which are coming up March 18 and 20.

With very little time to pull it together, Will and his family began planning and promoting.

Although his mom has been guiding him through the process, and his big sister, Elle, (who also had Knoop as a teacher) was put in charge of a bake sale to accompany the lemonade, make no mistake about who is in charge.

“He is,” laughed Cymbaluk. “He hasn’t thought of himself once throughout this, he just thinks about how he can help raise more money for Mrs. Knoop.”

In fact, Will’s hope is that “a millionaire would come and give him a thousand million dollars for Mrs. Knoop,” and that she can go on vacation after her treatments.

But realistically, Will and his crew of helpers would just be happy to raise money for Knoop’s family to make the constant trips back and forth to Rochester. A little lemonade stand should certainly help.

But word of Will’s plans spread like wildfire, and the little boy with the big heart soon captured the hearts of others as well.

Donations came pouring in, and they have been what Miranda Cymbaluk calls almost “overwhelming” for what was originally just going to be a small gesture.

Now, a silent auction will also be a part of the two-day event, and it won’t be a little part.

“NDSU donated a 2013 championship, autographed football that has a value of up to $2,000,” said Cymbaluk, who says they’ve gotten jewelry, an autographed Sioux Hockey jersey, Twins tickets, a trip to Cabo San Lucas,  Nickelodeon Universe passes and much more.

Will’s dad, Chris, also applied for and received $1,000 in supplemental funding for the event from his employer, Thrivent Financial.

“It’s been shocking — Will had an idea that just grew and grew,” said Mandy Cymbaluk, who says she’s amazed on a daily basis at the outpouring of generosity from people wanting to help her little boy and his “really nice” teacher.

“Mrs. Knoop is the kind of lady who doesn’t like people to make a big fuss over her, and I think the only reason she’s OK with this is because it’s one of her students, who she loves,” said Cymbaluk, relaying a message from Knoop that it’s “an honor to have a student so caring and doing this for her.”

Knoop also mentioned that she “loves all her students and she misses them dearly.”

Will says he misses his teacher, too, and hopes that she “feels better really soon” and that “a lot of people come and buy lemonade and help Mrs. Knoop.”

The Cymbaluks have set up a Facebook page for the event with photos of several of the auction items. It’s called “Will’s Lemonade Stand.”

“Now the trick is to get people to actually come out and bid on the items, otherwise we’ll be handing Mrs. Knoop an autographed Bison Championship football,” laughed Cymbaluk, who says she’s so proud and constantly surprised by her little boy and the lessons he’s learned from it all.

“It’s not a lesson on reading or writing, but it’s been such a great life lesson on putting others before yourself and helping others,” said Cymbaluk, who says it really has been hard for shy, little Will to approach people to ask for donations, and while it’s often done with eyes cast down at the floor, it’s still done.

“So even though she (Knoop) isn’t in the classroom with him right now, she’s still teaching him something very, very important,” added Cymbaluk.

And for many others, it’s Will that is in return giving life to the old adage: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

“And it will be yellow ‘cuz that’s Mrs. Knoop’s favorite color,” said Will, “And it will be very good.”

Will’s Lemonade Stand and the silent auction items will be set up Tuesday and Thursday March 18 and 20 from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Rossman Elementary School.