Mourners filled the pews of St. Isidore’s Church Monday morning at a funeral Mass to celebrate the life of Keri Lynn Stromski of Jamesport, the beloved Aquebogue Elementary School kindergarten teacher whose very public battle with stage IV breast cancer educated and empowered thousands of patients, families, friends and supporters.
Stromski died April 6 at age 48.
The number of people touched by her life in one way or another — family members, former students and their families, neighbors, colleagues, sorority sisters and admirers — was evidenced by the crowd in the church and the throngs who flocked to the nearby funeral home to say their goodbyes.
The Mass was live-streamed on the church’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, so Stromski’s distant supporters and fans could watch.
Stromski’s sister, Jill Kubetz, flanked by their brothers, Scott and Rob Wicklund, gave a moving eulogy. As she stepped up to the lectern, the normally stoic-faced Kubetz — a Riverhead Police sergeant — popped a feathered tiara atop her head, a tribute to the sister who would don all kinds of costumes and headgear to amuse and engage her students.
“It’s a heavy day, but it doesn’t have to be,” Kubetz said. “Today we are here to celebrate Keri. We do so as a family, as a community, to give honor to the profound ways she touched those she knew and those she never met.
“Keri understood that all you need to change a person’s life for the better is a moment of your time, your attention, your compassion and a hug. And we know this because we hugged the entire town of Rivehread over the past two days,” Kubetz said.
“My sister’s not done speaking yet,” she said. “If she loved you then you have a cheerleader for life.”
Kubetz recalled her sister’s “constant live-streams” of the Stromski children’s swim meets.
“When we were watching them, we would look for the kids in the meets, but all we could hear was, ‘Go Maddie go! Go Quinn go! Go Morgan go! Go! Go! Go!”
Addressing her nieces and nephew, Kubetz told them how their mother said she worried about them because “swimming is a lonely sport… You are alone in the water, racing against the clock, hearing only muffled voices around you — which is why she tried to be the loudest voice in the meet, so that you could her her when you needed it the most,” Kubetz said.
“Right now, it feels like we’re all that lone swimmer. We’re swimming upstream, our chests are tight and our lungs are heavy and we’re hearing only these muffled sounds as we navigate our grief,” Kubetz said.
“In those moments when it is the hardest, when you are quiet, steady yourself and just breathe,” Kubetz told the children. “Because there in the bleachers sits your mom and she is the greatest cheerleader of your life.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the church as Jason Hefter, a close friend of the Stromskis, read remarks written by Stromski’s husband of 20 years, Rob.
He thanked “this wonderful little town with the biggest heart.”
He recalled their first date and how he knew right away that she was “the one.”
“From that day forward, I was going to do whatever I had to do to make her my wife,” he wrote. “I called her my princess and that became my miracle.”
He talked about sharing his wife with her students. “They were so much a part of our lives,” he wrote. “I loved her for the passion she gave our kids and the countless kids she taught. She would light up whenever she saw her kids years later out and about. And her kids would always remember her.”
Stromski said his wife amazed him. “She loved everyone and all she wanted was to be loved. You all have shown her that she was loved and she felt it when it counted.”
Stromski taught kindergarten for more than 20 years in the Riverhead school district. She chronicled her journey with stage IV breast cancer in a blog called “Faith Over Fear,” and became a fierce advocate for research funding for metastatic breast cancer.
Keri Stromski is survived by her husband, her children Madison, Morgan and Quinn, her parents Allan and Judith Wicklund, and her siblings, Scott Wicklund, Jill Kubetz and Rob Wicklund.
She was laid to rest at St. Isidore Cemetery in Riverhead.
Memorial donations may be made to Metavivor or the Alison Stopech Research Fund at Stony Brook University (click “Change” and in the search box begin typing Alison Stopech Research Fund to select).
The Hefters have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the Stromski children’s education fund. In one day it has raised $19,457 toward a goal of $75,000.
Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.