Beneath each armrest on a pristine white bench at John Glenn High School in Elwood sit vibrant blue number “14s.”
The number belonged to Sean Urda, a 17-year-old senior who died in a snow-tubing accident last January.
“Soccer was Sean’s sport. He had just picked up lacrosse, but he was still a part of the team and the family,” said Augie Tufano, a lacrosse dad at John Glenn.
Tufano and several other parents pulled together with the heartbroken team to fund a memorial telling Urda’s story. But the memorial almost didn’t happen, he said.
“We had raised the money, picked out the bench, knew what the plaque would say,” Tufano said. “But then we found out it would be an extra $360 to ship it.”
Faced with a busted budget, the fundraising team turned to another parent and craftsman, Normand Page.
“I said to him, ‘This is the money we raised. Can you help us?’ And he went above and beyond,” Tufano said.
Weaving together Urda’s love of soccer and lacrosse, his alma mater and his jersey number, Page and community members devoted many hours creating a one-of-a-kind memorial.
“It’s a work of art,” said his mother, Nicole Urda.
As Page designed and outfitted the bench with full-sized lacrosse sticks and soccer balls, the community pitched in by buying supplies and helping with the sanding and painting.
“We’re in a small, tight-knit community, but even then, you don’t know every person in town,” said Urda’s father, Gary. “There were people working on this who we haven’t even met. And it’s because they care about Sean.”
Friends finally revealed the memorial to the Urdas days before the Oct. 31 homecoming, when the bench was officially dedicated.
“This was completely unexpected, and we’re just so grateful to the lacrosse team, to the students, the soccer team, the community,” Urda’s mother said. “It’s heartwarming to know that they still remember him and will continue to remember him.”
The project was close to the hearts of the fundraising team, who were also blown away by the details and craftsmanship of the memorial.
“It’s so personal and so incredible,” Tufano said. “And in 10 years, when our kids are out of the school, the next generation will see it and know who he was.”
Crafted from composite wood that can withstand the harshness of the outdoors, the memorial will hopefully teach generations of John Glenn students the heartbreakingly important lesson that life can change in an instant.
“Life is very fragile, and future students should realize that,” Tufano said. “Everyone loved Sean. He was very smart, very bright. He had aspirations. He got into great schools. When you’re a senior in high school and your life is cut short, it touches everyone.”
The bench will sit in the school’s courtyard at the request of the Urda family.
“We hope it’s a reminder for students that they don’t forget our son,” Urda’s mother said. “He was a really remarkable kid and was loved by the students. The courtyard was the right place for it to be enjoyed and for him to be remembered always.”