Oconomowoc Area School District - Hundreds of green balloons rising into the skies on Monday morning paid tribute to the life of a former Nature Hill Intermediate School student who died much too soon.
Jacob Butschke was just 12 when an undiagnosed heart condition cut short his promising life on March 11, 2012.
A member of the National Junior Honor Society, Jacob was also gifted in the performing arts and was active in school productions and Theatre on Main and loved to sing in choir and his church's praise band.
On the one-year anniversary of his passing, scores of people gathered at his former school to remember.
"It went really well. It was very emotional, but went really well," said Jacob's mother, Lisa Butschke.
"It was beautiful watching the balloons take off. It was what we needed," she said, even if Mother Nature failed to cooperate with the initial plan.
"The weather was a bummer, so we didn't get to go to the top of Nature Hill," Butschke said, as she originally hoped.
But the overcast and foggy day offered something else in its stead.
"It was kind of good," she said of the skies.
"You could watch them (the balloons) go up and then disappear, and there was a little bit of sun that appeared just as the balloons were released," she said.
All the balloons were lime green "because that was Jacob's favorite color," his mother explained.
"It was just beautiful. It was a wonderful way to honor Jacob," Butschke added.
Students were given a choice in attending the function, which was held during non-classtime.
"It was an elective for the kids; they signed up for it if they wanted to be a part of it. We supplied everything. It was done during lunchtime, so it was not taking time away from academics," she said.
Butschke estimated there were approximately 400 people at the event that included music and a poetry reading.
A poem written by a family friend just days after Jacob's passing, and which is inscribed on his monument, was read.
"We played music that speaks to us and our daughter, Madeline, counted down the balloon release," Butschke said.
The green balloons soon dotted the landscape carrying with them the thoughts and prayers of those who knew and loved Jacob.
"It was amazing how many people chose to take part in it. It was humbling to see that the kids still cared. We had family and friends who rearranged schedules, took off work and cared enough to do that to be there," she said.
Butschke said as she planned the event she found support from an unexpected place.
The helium for the all the balloons was donated by the supplier, Praxair.
"Helium is gold right now. There is a worldwide shortage," Butschke said she discovered while calling around for a source.
When she reached the Brookfield company and explained why she needed it, a woman placed the call on hold and returned to tell her the company would like to donate the helium to them.
"I couldn't believe it. They delivered it to the school the Friday before so it would be ready for us," she said.
Butschke said the event was very emotional for their family, and found out that it was for others as well.
"People came up afterward and said everyone was crying and emotional because everyone loved him," she said.
Butschke said school Principal Mike O'Connor was "really very sensitive to all the kids. He was very compassionate."
"It was beautiful and it was exactly what we wanted and the best way to spend the yesterday.
"We were dreading the day, but they way we spent it and honored him was perfect," she added.
"It was a very special way to honor Jacob and celebrate the life he lived. By the amount of people that were there, it just tells us how loved he is and how many people are still hurting and grieving and how much we appreciate the love and support that so many people give us," Butschke added.
As pain and grief ran
Deep and broad,
A whisper came from
The Kingdom of God.
The message was first faint,
But grew to be clear:
Your beloved is in My Grace,
I will hold him near.
And like a makeshift roadmap
From an old German fable,
The boy has left us a trail
Which leads to the Lord's table.
This child lived an example of
What God expects of our life.
Rising above the chorus of
Discontent, envy and petty strife.
Devoted to loving others and armed
With a Faith that would not tatter.
The young man has shown the way,
We need only follow Jacob's ladder.
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