Naperville North student remembered for smile, spirit
Whether he was helping a fellow student struggling with a math problem or politely clapping for a golf teammate's shot, "Mikey" Gustafson gave his all and did it with a smile.
Friends, family, teachers and teammates are missing that helpful smile this week as they mourn his death.
Michael, 15, died Sunday following a nearly five-year battle with medullablastoma -- a malignant brain tumor that was first discovered when he was 10.
Despite numerous surgeries and months of radiation and chemotherapy, those who knew him say the Woodridge teen's spirit never faded.
Naperville North High School golf coach Ryan Hantak said Mikey was such an inspiration, during his short time on the frosh/soph team, that the Michael Gustafson Sportsmanship Award was created and named in his honor.
"He not only was an amazing teammate but he inspired my varsity team on a daily basis. Mikey was a kid who always smiled and worked hard despite his sickness. He had a great sense of humor and always gave 100 percent," Hantak said. "As the season went on, the team got closer and closer to Mikey even though he would sometimes not be at practice because he was tired. He inspired the varsity so much that the boys all wrote MG on their shirts, towels and golf balls."
Mikey also excelled in the math arena from an early age and wanted others to as well.
"Michael was truly a brilliant mathematician. He loved to explain his reasoning and thinking and did it in such a way that all students understood clearly," said Meadow Glens honors math teacher Kristen Kainrath. "More importantly, Michael was the first to help another student struggling with a math problem. His empathy, patience and compassion for others was evident every single day."
Perhaps his compassion for others was best displayed in his dedication to the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life campaign.
Relay For Life coordinator Dwan Johnson said she has never experienced the power of a young man with "so much drive and a heart of gold" as he regularly led teams of walkers. He was known to walk in the wee hours, even when he didn't feel his best.
"Michael was such an extraordinary young man. He was a child, a boy, who knew what he faced and expended his breath and energy so others wouldn't have to fight as hard," Johnson said. "In the past year alone, Michael has been responsible for more than $30,000 in donations from teams he led and those who started teams in his name."
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Van Andel Research Institute, in memory of Michael Gustafson, 33 Bostwick Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. A visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 44 S. Mill St., Naperville. A Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Margaret Mary Church, 1450 Green Trails Drive, Naperville. Interment will follow at Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery.