Volume 12 Week 5

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(Posted 9:30 a.m., May 18)
Louis-Riel staff and students rally to support school custodian diagnosed with cancer

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Most school custodians go about doing their jobs in relative obscurity. They keep the hallways free of litter, clean the classrooms and unplug the occasional clogged toilet. In most schools the students barely give them a second thought.

Not so at École secondaire Louis-Riel where the staff and students have rallied to support school custodian Henri Mallette who was diagnosed earlier this year with Stage 3 terminal leukemia.

Louis-Riel custodian Henri Mallette gets set to drop the ceremonial first puck prior to the start of Friday's game between the Louis-Riel Rebelles girls hockey team and their teachers. Fred Sherwin Photo

In honour of Mallette and motivated by two of their own whose cancer is in remission, the students began to raise money in their fight against cancer. Their initial goal was $3,000. Several teachers offered to have their heads shaved if the students attained their target, while others offered to dye their hair, or get a mohawk. They all happily complied when the target was reached.

But the students didn't stop there. They kept raising money and by Friday they had raised nearly $6,000, effectively doubling their original goal.

The fundraising effort culminated in a hockey game between a few brave staff members and the Louis-Riel Rebelles girls hockey team which won the OFSAA provincial championship in March.

Nearly 400 students, or roughly half of the student body, were on hand at the Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex to witness the game which the girls easily won 7-3, much to the chagrin of the teachers' assistant coaches and cancer survivors Dennis Gudbranson and Nick Lanzer.

The first star of the game went to an extremely appreciative and emotional Henri Mallette who could barely hold back the tears when talking about what the students' efforts mean to him.

"It's made me feel wonderful, that they would do something like this for me. I thank them from the bottom of my heart I can't believe it," said Mallette who's been a custodian at the school for the nearly seven years.

The diagnosis and fundraising effort has turned the once relatively anonymous school janitor into somewhat of a celebrity.

"A lot of students will say hi to me in the hall and the girls want to take their picture with me. It's been pretty good to tell you the truth."

As for the leukemia, Mallette said he plans to fight it until either he kills it or it kills him.

"I'm a fighter. I'm not going to quite. I'm going to fight it all the way and I'm going to live for another 20 years," said Mallette, who recently renewed his wedding vows with his wife.

The pastor who presided over the ceremony was diagnosed with the same type of cancer when she was in her early 20s. Twenty-five years later she's alive and well and the mother of two daughters.

The fundraising effort and the hockey game was organized by first year teacher Karina Potvin. She was looking to put together an event to celebrate the girls' triumph at OFSAA in March when she heard about Mallette's diagnosed. Putting two and two together she decided to organize a fundraising campaign around a hockey challenge between the girls team and the teachers.

"I believe that it's important to for the school and the students to give back some how, and with Henri's diagnosis it gave us all a cause to rally around and the students really bought into it to the point where we've doubled our original goal," said Potvin.

Louis-Riel's principal Claude Pierre-Louis couldn't be prouder of his staff or his students for pulling it all together.

"It's really incredible to see the students mobilize they way they have and to see our teachers and staff buy in and have their heads shaved. They've surpassed every objective and I know Henri is very appreciative of everything they've done," said Pierre-Louis.

After the game and all the formally presentations dozens of students went out of their way to shake Mallette's hand or give him a kiss on the cheek before boarding the buses and heading back to school.

When the last student had left. Mallette walked to his car with the 1st star trophy and the game puck clutched tightly in his hand.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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