Lemons4Lance: Minnesota students raise money for family of 10-year-old classmate who died of cancer
10-year-old Lance Larson died Saturday after a lengthy battle with liver cancer.
WABASHA, Minn. — Most people in this southeastern Minnesota city of 2,600 people were aware that 10-year-old Lance Larson was sick. Still it came as a shock to many when news spread over the weekend that he had died Saturday after courageously battling liver cancer.
For Anna Quade, Ava Stark, Eva Loechler, and Alison Johnson – all 11-year-old friends of Lance’s at Wabasha-Kellogg Elementary School – there have been anguished tears shed at the loss of their classmate. Death is always shattering, but to one so young and vibrant, nearly impossible to comprehend.
“They were devastated,” said Kellie Quade, a W-K elementary teacher who was Lance’s second-grade teacher and is Anna’s mom. “They knew that Lance was sick. But I don’t think they knew to that extent. None of us really knew …”
Channeling their sadness, grief and innate generosity, the girls turned a sidewalk lemonade stand Monday into a community fundraiser to honor Lance and his family and to help pay for the funeral expenses.
Decorated with colorful balloons and advertised with the Facebook hashtag, “Lemons 4 Lance,” the girls sold $1 cups of lemonade, but many patrons, as cars and pedestrians converged on the makeshift stand, gave much more.
“It’s just great to see,” said Halie Meyer, a Wabasha resident who strolled up to the stand with her daughter and friend’s child in a baby carriage and began to tear up. “It's emotional. For young girls to do this for a family that is hurting at a time like this.”
Cancer has been particularly brutal to the Larson family. Lance’s father, Leigh Larson, is also battling cancer. Lance is survived by a twin sister, Hannah, and older sister, Jeannette, and his mother, Lori.
“He will truly be missed by all who knew him. His passing has left an incredible emptiness in our lives,” his obituary read.
The lemonade stand went up Sunday evening on Hiawatha Drive, the city’s main drag, next to the city’s swimming pool, and at first, the idea was just a bit of distracting fun.
But once they made a little money, the girls soon made the decision to donate whatever funds they raised to Lance’s family. One thing led to another, and soon the girls were elaborating on their lemonade stand, making signs, decorating it with balloons and getting the word out on social media. They waved makeshift signs highlighting that the fundraising was on behalf of their friend along Hiawatha Drive to entice drivers to stop.
It was a way to help the family and distract from the girls' sadness.
Quade didn’t get into specifics about the amount of money raised, but did say an early goal of raising $1,000 had been surpassed by early Monday afternoon. Donations also poured in via Quade’s venmo page @Kellie-Quade.
The girls had known Lance more than half their young lives, having started preschool together. Even if they weren’t in the same class together (there were usually only two classes), they saw Lance every day, at lunch and recess and on the bus. They saw each other at parades and festivals. And there was a strong bond among them.
“He truly was friends with everyone,” Quade said. “If they had a problem, he stuck up for them. Everybody just truly loved Lance. And everybody in the community does.”
As people stopped at the stand, several reminisced about Lance’s special qualities as a person and an athlete.
W-K Athletics Director Tim Klingbeil described Lance as a “terrific athlete” who loved competition. He was a regular participant at Wabasha football camps and, before he got sick, was the fastest runner in his grade.
“I don’t have a bad memory,” Klingbeil said. “He was competitive. But he never got upset with his classmates, never got angry. A great overall kid.”
W-K district Superintendent Jim Freihammer said everybody who saw Lance battling cancer came to realize how tough and determined he was. Whenever he was able to attend school, he was at school.
“He did whatever it took. He loved to be there,” Freihammer said. “And it wasn’t very comfortable all the time.”
Freihammer applauded the girls’ lemonade stand as something “very special.” It allowed school and community members to gather, talk and support each other during an emotionally fragile time and provided a means for the Wabasha community to support the Larson family.
Other tributes to Lance are planned. His fifth-grade classmates are planning a tree-planting at the school baseball field. There are also plans to put up a bench near the river to memorialize one of his other passions: fishing.
“Lance loved to fish. He loved being on the water. He loved being on the pontoon,” Quade said.
“Even on the hardest days, he had a smile on his face,” she said.