by Joe Bollig
OVERLAND PARK — Mackenzie and Sydney Lutz never knew what it was like to have a mother who wasn’t sick.
Mackenzie was only five, and Sydney only two, when Kelly Lutz was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She was sick for pretty much my whole life,” said Mackenzie, now 16, and a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park. “It was a normal part of who we were.”
Kelly and Shane Lutz, members of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, tried their best to make a happy family life for their girls, despite Kelly’s life-and- death struggle.
“When a parent is sick, it has an emotional effect on you, too,” said Mackenzie. “I remember one of the first times she had chemotherapy and began losing her hair — how it came out in patches. I felt really afraid. It was hard for a five-year-old mind to wrap around it. It was kind of scary.”
Sydney, now an eighth-grader at Prince of Peace School, also remembered how difficult it was.
“It was hard to know that my mother was in pain and that she didn’t really have a way of escaping that, and had to live with it every day,” said Sydney.
But there were good things, too: how their mom would give them “rides” up and down on the motorized hospital bed set up in the dining room; all the beautiful flowers people sent; all the family and friends who dropped off meal after meal to help them.
Shane, Mackenzie and Sydney might have only been left with memories after Kelly died on May 2, 2008. However, Shane was determined that her life would not end there.
“As her life began to diminish, I began to think of a way to capture all that goodness we had going on at that moment and to carry it into the future,” he said.
And so he founded the Kelly Lynn Lutz Scholarship Foundation, established to help children who have lost a parent to cancer pay for college.
Kelly and Shane were married in 1989. Although she was trained as a teacher, Kelly chose to be a stay-at- home mom and raise their two girls. The Lutz family moved to Olathe in 1997 and immediately joined Prince of Peace Parish.
“From the beginning, she was a big supporter of the parish,” said Shane. “She volunteered for various activities. She substitute taught and worked in the office. She ran the book fair and helped with the annual parish gala, and really became an icon of support and volunteerism.”
Even after she was diagnosed, she continued volunteering as best she could. At one point, the doctors thought the cancer went into remission. Later, however, they found out that it continued to spread until it took her life.
“During the whole time she was sick, especially in the last two years, the whole family was blessed with a lot of support not only from [Prince of Peace Parish], but the whole community,” said Shane. “It was overwhelming.”
The KLL Foundation is his way of giving back.
The foundation pursues its mission — to help young adults achieve a college education — in two ways.
The first is to award an annual $1,000 college scholarship, which is renewable for up to four years. So far, the foundation has new two scholarship recipients. The second is to give financial help to families who are struggling after the loss of a parent to cancer.
“For example, there was a family where the husband was lost to cancer five years ago,” said Shane. “The children ranged from the third grade to first year in college. [The mother] was on the verge of losing her utilities when we stepped in and not only got her caught up, but paid forward through the remainder of the summer to give her a head start.”
The foundation is a family affair. Mackenzie and Sydney have been appointed honorary board members by their father. They help pick out the candidates for scholarships, assist with the awards dinners, and help run fundraising events. The most recent was a 5K run/walk on May 1 at Heritage Park in Olathe.
In this fashion, the girls have a way to carry their mother’s memory and their father’s good work far into the future. When they reach adulthood, they will become full-fledged board members.
“I want to do it,” said Sydney. “It helps me remember everything about her, and I can continue her message she was trying to send everyone: to live life each day like it was your last.”
For information about the KLL Scholarship Foundation, go to the Web site at: www.kllscholarshipfund. org. The KLL Foundation can also be found on Facebook.