Westhampton Beach High School student Haley Schoeck’s favorite memory of her father is of him asking her to dance when she was a little girl.
“He would say, ‘We have to dance cheek to cheek,’ and he would crouch down so that he would be the same size as me,” said Schoeck, 16, of Quogue.
Schoeck’s father, John, died at the age of 50 from a heart attack when she was 8.
Casey Fuchs, 17, can relate to her friend’s heartbreak. She also lost her father too soon. Her father, Harry Fuchs recently died at the age of 52 from a heart attack.
With an eye toward making a difference, the two Westhampton Beach High School students turned tragedy into triumph when they organized a Heart Ball at the school that raised $25,000 for the American Heart Association.
“I have never seen this kind of money raised by two students,” said Westhampton Beach High School Principal Christopher Herr. “It’s phenomenal. They knocked this one out of the park.”
The Heart Ball, which was for students only, was held at Westhampton Beach High School in early February. More than 100 students turned out for the event wearing elegant attire. The money they raised will go toward funding a $110,000 clinical research grant that has been named in memory of the girls’ fathers.
Both girls will speak at the AHA Hamptons Heart Gala on June 25 at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton in an effort to raise an additional $80,000 needed to fund the grant.
Not only that, Herr said, but the AHA has decided to use the girls’ winning template to kickstart similar events in schools nationwide.
“These girls have created a legacy that has the potential to raise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for years to come,” Herr said.
Both girls said they embarked on the fundraising effort to help deal with their loss.
“If this research prevents even one family from the loss that we had, it will all be worth it,” Schoeck said.
Both girls have learned life lessons by organizing the event.
“Fundraising is hard and stressful, but no matter how many times I wanted to quit, the whole thing was so worth it,” said Fuchs, of Remsenburg. “I’ve grown to become a better person. It feels good to help.”
For Schoeck, her father’s words continue resonate in her heart.
“My dad’s dad, who I never met, always said, ‘Opportunities appear like clouds. They seem to linger and never go away. The next thing you know, they’re gone forever.’ My dad used to live by those words, and I do the same,” Schoeck said. “He seized every opportunity and never took moments for granted. He didn’t live a long life but he lived a full one.”
Photo: Haley Schoeck, then 7, dances with her father, John, at her First Communion celebration in 2001.