Home Marlton News A Beeler friendship — and lifesaving effort — that spans generations

A Beeler friendship — and lifesaving effort — that spans generations

More than a decade after Kathleen Kresge saved Ryan Monahan's life, her funeral united him with her family

Beeler Elementary School teacher’s aide Kathleen Kresge passed away in February at the age of 88.

While every school employee has the opportunity to change the course of a child’s life, it’s not every day they get to save a life, too.

But that’s what happened at Beeler Elementary School in 2008. When longtime teacher’s aide Kathleen Kresge realized third grader Ryan Monahan had started choking during lunchtime, she calmly and expertly performed the Heimlich maneuver — which she had  taken it upon herself to learn only “a day or two before,” according to her daughter Kathy Kresge.

“My mom took certain things very seriously and would learn anything,” says Kathy, who grew up within walking distance of Beeler but now resides in Minneapolis. “That’s why she decided to learn the Heimlich: After she had raised her four children, the children in Beeler became her kids, too, and it was her job to protect them.”

The older Kresge and Monahan had already established a special bond well before that fateful day, as the teacher’s aide frequently sat with a young boy who “didn’t really fit in with a lot of the kids at the school.”

“I found a friend in Mrs. Kresge,” Monahan recalls. “She would hang out with me during lunch or recess and she’d give me someone to talk to, which was huge for me as someone who was struggling socially.”

That deep connection kept Monahan calm as he searched for his friend when he began to choke one day in the cafeteria.

“I knew that Mrs. Kresge was there somewhere, so in my head I was like, ‘I have to find her because she’s the only person in this room I really trust and, hopefully, she knows what to do.’ And of course she did,” he says.

As a third grader, Monahan had no way of foreseeing just how that lifesaving lunchtime encounter would deepen his bond with the teacher’s aide, nor could he anticipate that he’d be a comfort to her family 12 years later. When Kathleen passed away in February at the age of 88, her daughter took to the internet in the hope of finding the long-ago Beeler student her mother had been especially close with.

“I didn’t know his last name so I just went on Facebook — I had found a card from a Ryan Monahan, so I thought that must be him,” Kathy recalls. After some quick arithmetic to figure out when he would have graduated from Cherokee High School and how old he would be now, she took a chance, wrote a message to a stranger, and sent it into the digital ether.

Monahan says that he was initially ecstatic to hear from who he thought was his long-ago friend from Beeler, then struck with sadness when he realized the note bore unhappy news. He then immediately went to work figuring out the logistics of balancing his coursework at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) with what he thought would be a long drive to the Midwest for a funeral he knew he couldn’t miss.

“When I got Kathy’s message, I saw that she lives in Minneapolis,” says Monahan. “So I was like, ‘Am I really about to drive to Minnesota for a funeral?’”

Now an education major and junior at TNCJ, Monahan was relieved that all it took was a little juggling of his schedule to attend Kathleen’s funeral, a suddenly navigable distance when he found out it was in Princeton, just 15 minutes from campus.

Monahan fully anticipated that his girlfriend — who accompanied him to the funeral for moral support — would be the only person he knew there, which was true, until Kathy approached him to introduce herself.

“I expected no one to really care that I was there, then Kathy came up to me and introduced herself and asked who I was. So I said, ‘I’m Ryan,’ and she was like, ‘You’re THE Ryan!?’” he says.

“I got a huge reaction from Mrs. Kresge’s family that I didn’t expect. They were all so welcoming and thankful that I was there.”

“Ryan had researched, on his own, where the funeral was going to be and took off a day from college and even spoke,” Kathy adds. “It was wonderful. I know my mom would be so proud of him, that a 20-year-old would do that for a teacher’s aide. But that’s Ryan.”

Monahan admits it was “nervewracking” to speak at the funeral but he’s glad he had the opportunity to share just how much his “Mrs. Kresge” not only saved but also positively impacted his life.

“I felt so good that I spoke afterward,” he notes. “I knew that if I didn’t, I was going to regret it.”

Kathy and her family were touched by Monahan’s eulogy, which added more depth to the friendship than they originally realized, as Kathleen Kresge was careful to always respect the confidence of her Beeler children.

“I think she could pick up on which kids, as a lot of mothers do, need a little extra boost, but she was very quiet about it,” says her daughter. “Ryan said that my mother was one of his best friends, and I didn’t know that she had such a huge impact on his life. I imagine she did that with other kids, too.”

And while Kathleen’s loss is still a fresh hurt for those who were touched by what her daughter describes as a legacy of compassion and doing the right thing no matter what, she is still helping those who need that extra boost in a difficult time.

“Kathy’s sister-in-law Nancy just sent me a letter with their contact information and in the letter, Nancy wrote, ‘You are part of this family now,’” Monahan says. “Now I have all these friends and this family that I didn’t really know of before.

“Mrs. Kresge was one of my best friends, and she’s the one who brought us all together.”

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