October 30, 2013 - "Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat."
William Kochis (far left) was killed in a traffic crash Sept. 10. He leaves behind his wife, Shannon Gerbe (far right), and four kids – Sophia (5), Porter (3), Josslyn (2) and Brooks (4 months). (click for larger version)
It's not just some motto or slogan.
It's a sincere promise that Oxford always takes care of its own.
How fitting that it's also the name of a Wednesday, Nov. 13 fund-raiser to honor the memory of William "Billy" Kochis, a 2002 Oxford High School graduate, and help his widow, Shannon Gerbe, a 2004 OHS graduate.
The event, to be held at Buffalo Wild Wings (770 N. Lapeer Rd.) in Orion Township, is meant to benefit a college fund for the four small children Kochis, 29, left behind when he was tragically killed in a Sept. 10 traffic crash on U.S. 131 south in Kent County's Plainfield Township.
"When you think about life not being fair, this is one of those instances," said OHS teacher Gina Sambuchi-Black, who's working with the school's Student Leadership Team to organize the fund-raiser.
"This is one of those situations where he was doing everything that he could (in life), doing everything right, but you don't get to choose whether or not you get a tomorrow."
Folks wishing to attend the fund-raiser are asked to pick up a flyer at either OHS or Buffalo Wild Wings.
Present this flyer to the wait staff between 11 a.m. and 2 a.m. Nov. 13 and 20 percent of the dine-in or takeout order bill will be donated to the Kochis children college fund. The flyer must be presented in order for it to count toward the fund-raiser.
The fund-raiser applies to both food and drink orders, but not gift cards.
There will also be a silent auction from 5-8 p.m. featuring items ranging from concert tickets to autographed sports memorabilia. Those wishing to donate auction items are asked to please contact Sambuchi-Black at OHS at (248) 969-5100 Ext. 4180 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"You feel like, in this case, you have to do something because you can't do anything (to change what's happened)," Sambuchi-Black said. "It's kind of a weird paradox, but I think that's how most of us feel."
Kochis, who played for the OHS hockey and soccer teams and was living in Traverse City at the time of his death, left behind four children, all age 5 and under. Their names are Sophia, Porter, Josslyn and Brooks.
"The youngest (Brooks) was born in June, so essentially, you have a baby who will never know its father," Sambuchi-Black said
Beyond financial support, Sambuchi-Black explained this fund-raiser is about providing "moral support" to his wife, Shannon Gerbe, who played volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball during her high school career.
"She's got a long road ahead of her, especially with that many kids so young," she said. "I just can't imagine the strength that it's going to take . . . Having children myself and knowing how difficult it is on a daily basis, your heart breaks for her."
Sambuchi-Black said the message of this fund-raiser to Gerbe is, "We haven't forgotten about you. Even though this didn't happen within our community, you meant a lot to our school when you were here. We want to be there for you as much as we possibly can . . . You don't have to walk through life by yourself. There's a lot of people who remember you and your husband and your family, and want good things for all of you."
The teacher's memories of Kochis are fond ones.
"He just had so much energy. Everything was positive," Sambuchi-Black said. "He literally had one of the best attitudes. I don't think there's a person who ever met him that didn't say that this kid's smile and love of life was not apparent."
She explained that Kochis and Gerbe "knew what they wanted in life" as evidenced by their four children.
"They wanted an entire hockey team," Sambuchi-Black said.
Sambuchi-Black, who had Gerbe as a student, said dealing with this sort of thing is never easy for a teacher.
"Once I've had a student in class, to me, they're always my kid," she said. "One of the hardest parts of this job is having to go to a funeral for one of your own students, no matter how old they are. In your mind, you still see them as this 17 or 18-year-old kid, no matter how much time passes."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.