Blake McNish always had someone to play with during recess, even when the tumor in his brain returned and forced him to stay indoors.
“Kids argued about who got to stay inside and play with him,” said Pat Zimmerman, Blake’s fifth-grade teacher.
Zimmerman said students would defend Blake if anyone picked on him, and they played soccer with Blake and his red and white ball, knowing he might take it away a few minutes later.
“He taught the other kids tolerance, patience and love,” she said. “They were so protective of him.”
But the kids won’t play soccer with Blake anymore. His crooked smile, blond hair and glasses will forever be a memory to the kids and staff at Perry-Lecompton Elementary.
Blake died at Children’s Mercy Hospital on Friday from the complications of a malignant brain tumor. He was 11 years old.
“We miss him,” said Blake’s father, Tim. “But we know he went to a better place, where he doesn’t have to deal with any more surgeries.”
Blake was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 15-months-old. The cancer went into remission when he was 3.
Blake enjoyed eight cancer-free years before the tumor returned last month.
In those eight years, Blake was able to leave a lasting impression on all he met.
Bill Leslie, 83, said even though he was just a neighbor, Blake always referred to him as his grandpa.
“He was a mighty nice little guy,” Leslie said.
At school, Blake’s seat is empty, but his peers haven’t let him go. Students from the elementary and middle schools are raising money to help the McNishes pay the medical bills.
Fifth-graders gave the $160 they raised in concessions; they’re having a bake sale today and Thursday, too. Fourth-graders are donating proceeds from their school store.
Lecompton middle schoolers are collecting change in jars. On the last day of practice, the middle school track team will run 1,000 laps for pledges donated in Blake’s name.
And at the funeral Saturday, a quilt made by more than 60 fifth-graders and elementary school staff will embrace the small casket.
Zimmerman said the children made the quilt so Blake could be wrapped in all their love forever.
“You don’t think of some child touching that many people,” she said. “But he did.”