ST. LOUIS — Family and friends are heartbroken as they cherish the memories they made with the late Jean Kuczka.
Jean Kuczka was a 61-year-old teacher who students say died protecting them from a gunman at central visual and performing arts high school on Monday.
Jean’s loved ones said she was a passionate and caring person inside and outside the classroom and they’re determined to continue her legacy.
“My mom was very family oriented. And that same type of environment was instilled in her classroom. My mom played field hockey in high school and she was always a leader,” Jean Kuczka’s daughter Abbey Kuczka said.
Friend, bicyclist and former CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Derek Rapp said Jean was an advocate for JDRF.
“Jean was a role model. Jean, as a teacher, she used her writing as a way to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes, and also to help people see that you can go do things, you can go make a difference,” Rapp said.
Abbey Kuczka said it means a lot to know her mom truly made a difference for thousands of students over her 38-year teaching career.
“Brings peace of mind to know the impact that she left on this world. And truly, we didn't even know the impact that she had on all of these students until now,” Abbey said.
And outside the classroom, Rapp said she rode her bike hundreds of miles for her son, Joe, who has diabetes and raised $50,000 and counting for type one diabetes research.
The JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes is in just a few weeks.
“This was going to be her 16th ride for JDRF over all these years. And I will miss her terribly when we're doing that. Because we were going to be doing the ride together this year again,” Rapp said.
Abbey said she is so thankful for the adventures she shared with her mom and will never forget her love for her family and students a love she displayed with every last breath.
“When I first heard about the shooting, I had no idea it was my mom. But I know she got in front of the gunfire to save those kids. That was her passion. My mom’s a hero,” Abbey said.
On the next JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes, Rapp says he will be riding mile 23 in silence for Jean.
The family says they would love any donations in her memory to go to JDRF.