by TaLeiza Calloway
The tears filling Shannon Koenig’s eyes Oct. 19 were happy ones. She was simply blown away by the hundreds of people strolling into the Great Blue Heron restaurant in Cold Spring.
Those familiar faces and many new ones showed up to support the first fundraiser for the Nicholas P. Koenig H.E.R.O Foundation, a foundation Shannon and her husband Erik formed in memory of their son Nicholas. H.E.R.O. stands for Help and Encouragement on Rough Oceans.
“This is amazing,” Shannon Koenig said. “It’s just great that we can come together. It’s great to see us all unite to help build this foundation.”
Erik Koenig said when thinking of a name for the foundation they wanted something that best represented their son.
“We tried to think of one word that signified who Nicholas was,” Erik Koenig said. “He was a hero.”
At 2-years-old, Nicholas was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. AML is a type of cancer that starts inside the bone marrow where cancer grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells. It is a type of leukemia that is rare in children, warrants a more aggressive chemotherapy and usually requires a successful stem cell transplant to cure, according to the foundation’s website.
Nicholas received numerous rounds of chemotherapy and a blood stem cell (cord blood) transplant throughout his two-and-a-half-year fight with AML. The chemotherapy and transplant did not keep his body in remission and Nicholas passed away Aug. 16, 2011. He was 4 years old.
The Koenigs of Richmond started talking about creating the foundation shortly after Nicholas’s passing. They are working on getting 5013(c) status as a non-profit organization. Things have gone smoothly with the establishment of seven committees and a board of directors.
They decided to have the first annual Autumn H.E.R.O. Festival event near Halloween since it was Nicholas’s favorite holiday. He loved pirates so it was only fitting to have Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow there.
“We want this to be a fun family event,” Erik Koenig said.
Traffic was steady at the event that included a spaghetti dinner, live music, silent auction, a raffle and pumpkin sales. The Koenigs hope it’s an event families look forward to attending every year.
St. Joseph resident and friend of the Koenigs Mary Botz was excited to see the large turnout. She offered to volunteer herself but learned they had enough volunteers to cover.
“Everyone is just so excited to help out,” Botz said.
St. Joseph resident Emily Gruenke brought her family to the event. She prepped her son Brayden for the pirate impersonator of Jack Sparrow all week. She had to tell him that he won’t have a real hook or pistol, she said with a laugh. The 3-year-old lit up when he saw the pirate.
Liz Vos of Richmond sits on the board of directors for the Nicholas P. Koenig Foundation. She is also Erik’s sister and aunt of the little boy she says touched the lives of more people as a child than any adult she knows.
“There was something very special about him,” Vos said. “When I think of Nicholas, I think of light. I think we have to continue to shine his light.”
Vos was pregnant with her son Will when Nicholas passed away. Knowing how bright and bubbly her nephew was makes her sad that Will won’t have the chance to meet him. But they talk about him and he responds to Nicholas’s photo. Creating the foundation is a way to honor him and keep him going, she said.
While it is common for families who have lost loved ones to host similar events in support of the family, organizers wanted the autumn festival to be different. When they leave they want them to remember what their presence means.
“I want them to leave with a sense of hope,” Vos said. “It may only be an $8 dinner but that dinner can provide hope for another family.”
All proceeds will go to families dealing with pediatric cancer and for pediatric cancer care at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. For more information about the Nicholas P. Koenig H.E.R.O Foundation, visit www.npkherofoundation.org. Donations can also be made at any Central Minnesota Credit Union.