Memory of beloved Elk Grove High teacher at heart of Soul Jam music fest
The memory of a young Elk Grove High School teacher whose life touched thousands will be at the heart of a music festival Saturday at Soulful Prairies farm in Woodstock.
Alexa Rodheim-Cutler passed away in 2016 after a two-year battle with triple negative, BRCA1 positive breast cancer. She was a 2004 graduate of Hoffman Estates High School and had taught English and coached girls' water polo at Elk Grove High for several years.
Her memory -- and the chance to aid other women facing the same diagnosis -- will be at the center of the fourth annual Soul Jam, a one-day music concert that takes place at Soulful Prairies Farm in Woodstock.
"We saw a connection between the way Alexa lived her life and the beliefs and purpose behind Soulful Prairies," said Linda Bruce, who runs the farm with her husband, Robert. "It's all about giving back, personal growth, teaching, caring about the environment and treating animals with respect."
Bruce describes the event as a day filled with music, visiting with animals, shopping locally, homemade items and enjoying like-minded people who have come together for a good cause.
"My family came together four years ago and decided we wanted to create a fundraiser where we could bring all the things we love together," Bruce adds, "and create a day that others could enjoy and a nonprofit that would benefit."
That nonprofit this year is the Magnolia Tree Foundation, started by Rodheim-Cutler's family. Its name reflects Rodheim-Cutler's love of magnolia trees, which she first saw during a college volunteer trip to help clean up New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She saw that amid all the destruction, there was beauty in the magnolia trees that continued to stand strong.
The family started the Magnolia Tree Foundation two years ago with a mission to help those affected by the BRCA genetic mutation, which puts some women at a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Additionally, the foundation offers annual scholarships to students at Elk Grove and Hoffman Estates high schools.
"What a great match," said Laura Shrout, division assistant of the English and Fine Arts Department at Elk Grove High School and a former colleague of Rodheim-Cutler's.
"The farm is a place to go where people can let go of their worries, embrace health and focus on recovery and balance," Shrout added. "Alexa would have loved it."
As it turns out, Shrout is the sister of Linda Bruce, whose work as a social worker, formerly in Schaumburg and Wheeling, provided the vision for transforming the 80-acre horse farm into a place of healing and tranquillity for all who visit.
Throughout the year, Bruce and her husband run a coaching and counseling practice that offers groups and individuals a chance to focus on recovery, drawing from the peacefulness of the farm atmosphere and the horses' energy as an aid.
Yet, for one day each year, they transform the farm into a venue for a music festival, complete with all the trimmings.
The live music starts at 2 p.m. and includes a lineup of mostly country bands, including one that features members of the Bruce family, as well as their guitar and piano teacher. The acts build toward the evening's headliner, Ginger Road, which takes the stage at 6 p.m.
Beyond the music, there are food trucks and an assortment of beverages for sale, as well as vendors of handcrafted items, spread out in the barn and displayed in the different horse stalls.
Visitors also will have the chance to explore the farm itself, with its restored wetlands and prairies, as well as large pond, bees, gardens and horses.
Both Shrout and her colleague, Rita Thompson, are working to promote the fundraiser among the faculty and staff at Elk Grove High School, while Alexa Rodheim-Cutler's family in Hoffman Estates is spreading the word among their vast network of acquaintances.
"We expect a big turnout, far bigger than last year," Shrout says. "It will make it so much more intimate and personal than a music fest."
4th annual Soul Jam to benefit the Magnolia Tree FoundationWhen: 1:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Soulful Prairies Farm, 4706 Alden Road, Woodstock
Cost: $65 for adults, $55 for ages 21 and younger, free for ages 10 and younger