Declan Haubenreiser runs a lot. A member of the cross country team at Orland Junior High School, he practices often, but his runs this month in his Orland Park neighborhood have taken on more significance.
They are a way to remember his mom, Mary Haubenreiser, who died in 2016 of breast cancer when Declan and his twin sister Kenadie, now both 13, were youngsters.
Declan is participating in the Breast Cancer Awareness Month 35 Mile Challenge for the American Cancer Society in her honor.
Mary Haubenreiser, a special-education teacher at Richards High School in Oak Lawn and Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, is pictured at the top of a social media page devoted to the fundraiser holding young Declan at a Chicago Blackhawks game shortly before she died.
“In 2015, she knew she didn’t have much time left with me or my sister, so she took us to a Blackhawks game,” Declan said. “Looking back at those photos feels really good.”
The memory of her death still hurts, but doing something in the fight against breast cancer is one way to deal with the pain.
“Sometimes when I talk about her, it can feel like a fire, nice and toasty, but if you get too close, it can burn,” Declan said. “None of us are probably going to see cancer cured within our lifetime, but raising money for research is better than doing nothing.”
Janet Meyers, Mary Haubenreiser’s sister and a technology coach at Oak Lawn Community High School, took guardianship of the twins after her death. Meyers saw information on the American Cancer Society’s run last year and they participated together.
This year, Declan has made it his own, and made Meyers proud as well.
“He’s always been one to be aware of and promote breast cancer awareness,” she said. “He tries to find things to remember his mom.”
Meyers was close to her sister.
“She was really family oriented … family always came first,” Meyers said. “She was a hard worker, she was also a teacher and she always had a lot of compassion for her students and went the extra mile for all of them.”
Cora Umecker, a special-education teacher at Richards and former colleague, said Haubenreiser was a passionate educator and great friend.
“Here’s the thing about Mary, if there was something she could do, something she could get, she fought for it for her kids,” Umecker said. “If there was some new way to teach, she would want to learn it.”
In 2011, Haubenreiser had her students raise money from the sale of bean bag games they designed to purchase Christmas presents for students at Childs School in Robbins, noted Umecker.
The two were pregnant at the same time in 2008, so had a special bond.
“She was just a good person to not just talk about school with but other things, too,” said Umecker. “She obviously made an impact on her kids.
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“I think that’s a wonderful way for Declan to remember his mom and do something in her honor.”
Declan started doing a few miles around the neighborhood daily at the start of the month and needs to complete his 35 miles by the end of October. He logs his miles on a phone app and Meyers adds them to the Facebook page for pledges.
They’ve raised $1,315 so far.
“For people who have lost a relative or parent from breast cancer, you might feel like just a tiny speck in the middle of the ocean, but just to let you know, you’re not alone and you’re not fighting alone,” said Declan. “There are a bunch of people who are fighting with you.”
Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.