MORRIS – First-grade student Luchiano Eberhard and third-grade teacher Jan Bruyn live about four miles from each other. The two attend separate schools and before Sunday, they had never met.
But both Eberhard and Bruyn were surprised when a caravan of five fire trucks, three ambulances and four police cars arrived at their respective homes Sunday morning.
The sirens stopped traffic and lured neighbors out of their houses and into their lawns.
“I thought something really terrible had happened,” Bruyn said. “I had no idea they were all there for me.”
What Bruyn and Eberhard share is bravery – Eberhard in his fight against leukemia and Bruyn in her battle with breast cancer.
To recognize their courage, Morris fire Chief Tracey Steffes enlisted the help of the Pink Heals Joliet Area Chapter, an organization that honors people battling cancer, to surprise Bruyn and Eberhard with a special presentation.
“We protect this community in so many ways,” Steffes said. “It’s time we step up and be protectors of the human spirit.”
Bruyn was presented with a helmet and Eberhard with a toy fire truck, both signed by the entire fire department. The two also signed Joliet Pink Heals’ pink firetruck, which serves as a rolling memorial to cancer patients in the area. The truck was purchased and dedicated to 7-year-old Addison Locke of Joliet in April of this year.
“All of us here think you’re really brave and we want you to know we love and support you,” Sandra Fleck, co-founder of the Joliet Pink Heals, said to Eberhard as she presented his gift.
Friends, family, coworkers, classmates, neighbors and others came to the surprise presentations.
Bruyn’s son Jordan, a Morris firefighter, presented his mom with the hat and flowers.
“That was the best part,” Bruyn said. “They are a big family at the department and for them to do this with Jordan was really special.”
Nationally, Pink Heals was founded in 2007 by a group of Arizona firefighters, but Pink Heals Joliet Area Chapter was founded in January by Joliet firefighter Matt Fleck and his wife, Sandra.
“My husband and I were tired of cutting checks for organizations and not seeing where the money went,” Fleck said. “With this program, everything stays local.”
Steffes said he became interested in Pink Heals after meeting the founder at a convention in Chicago. When Steffes learned of the Joliet chapter, he “volun-told” Morris firefighter Dave Ritter to reach out so they could organize an event for Jordan Bruyn’s mom.
Ritter, who attends church with the Eberhard family, was aware of Luchi Eberhard’s illness and organized a ceremony for him as well.
“Dave asked us on Friday so I called everyone in Luchi’s class last-minute and organized a party,” said Jamie Eberhard, Luchi’s mother. “He was so surprised. It was awesome.”
Steffes said Morris could start a Pink Heals chapter of its own in the coming years. Before that happens, the department would need to raise enough funds to buy a pink firetruck.
“We want to bring attention and honor to those suffering,” Steffes said. “Overall, we want to give them love and support.”