One Michigan elementary school teacher went above and beyond when he took two former students to their school’s annual father-daughter dance — just weeks after the youngsters unexpectedly lost their father.
On Oct. 13, Steve Culbert took Avery and Alivia Reece to Hanh Intermediate School’s annual dance in Davison, with a little help from his own daughters, Hailey and Aliyah, who are friends and classmates of the sisters, Yahoo Lifestyle reports.
Not even a month before, on Sept. 19, Avery and Alivia’s father, Luke Reece, passed away at age 32. Luke was hospitalized on Aug. 27 to diagnose a sudden "shortness of breath" and other unusual symptoms, when doctors found he had a Protein C deficiency that caused multiple blood clots in his body, including in his lungs and legs, MLive.com reports. The news came as a serious shock.
Suffering cardiac arrest, Luke never regained consciousness and was taken off life support.
"It is still like...I can't believe it. This is not supposed to have happened,” his wife Shelley Reece told the outlet of the tragic loss of her husband.
Luke enjoyed yard work, gardening, playing baseball and golfing, Shelley said, and he loved their daughters most of all. A proud “gymnastics dad,” he also took Avery and Alivia to the father-daughter dance in the last four years.
Steve, who became friends with the Reece family as he previously had both Avery and Alivia in his second grade classes, was inspired to step up during the family’s time of need.
"I'm a teacher because I knew where I need to be and knew what I wanted to do finally," he told MLive.com. "I love my students and from day one, I tell my students they are family ... You can't just say it, you have to live it."
Steve also felt a special empathy for Avery and Alivia, as he lost his older brother, who was 14, to cancer in 1984.
“I know what it’s like to hurt as a kid,” Steve told Yahoo. “Seeing my brother go through what he went through at that age — he was the strongest person I’ve ever known.”
During Luke’s final days in the hospital, Steve visited the Reece family there to offer a little extra support.
“I wasn’t necessarily trying to be a father figure, just someone they knew that they could turn to,” he said of the gesture. “They have a great family. Their dad was their everything.”
During that time, after conversations with his wife, Katie, he dreamt up the idea of inviting the girls to the father-daughter dance that Luke always brought them too — which Shelley, Avery and Alivia accepted.
When the big day finally arrived, the Culbert family whisked Avery and Alivia away for breakfast at Tim Horton's, a trip to the playground, and a visit to the salon for special hairstyles. The Reece sisters then jetted to their aunt’s wedding, which they were in, and later returned home to a special surprise — a limo.
“When we were on our way, I said, ‘I don’t expect you to treat me like your dad. I know he’s here with us,’” Steve told Yahoo.
Before the group entered the dance, Steve gave Avery and Alivia red balloons inscribed #BeLikeLuke to release in their father’s honor and memory, in what he described as “a proud and emotional moment.”
Dancing the night away at the dance, the evening ended on a sweet note for Steve and the four girls: ice cream at McDonald’s.
“I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” the dad said of the special night, adding that Hailey and Aliyah were happy they were able to bring a little light to their friends’ lives during an incredibly difficult time.
Their mother, too, is ever grateful.
“It’s just so good that someone outside of the home is looking out from them,” Shelley told MLive. “I just want to thank Mr. Culbert and everybody for making sure the girls had a night to remember.”