Still in our hearts 20 years later

— East of the playground at Willowfield Elementary, there’s a 20-year-old red maple tree nestled among the greenery. I helped plant that tree as a sapling, tossing in a shovelful of soil along with dozens of others who finished the sixth grade at WFE in the summer of 1993, because that shovelful of dirt was all we could offer to honor the friend in whose memory the tree was planted.

Nick Isgro passed away after a battle with leukemia on June 19, 1993. He’d had a bone marrow transplant in Boston not long before, but developed complications after the surgery. That very day, we’d held a car wash in order to raise money for his care at the school; we all danced around and sang a song we made up (the lyrics and tune escape me now) and sprayed each other with the hose and threw sponges at each other (I doubt too many cars actually got clean) while Nick breathed his last. It took me years to stop feeling guilty about that.

At our sixth grade end-of-the-year luncheon just a few days later, what should have been a time of celebration turned to one of somber reflection. We stood in a circle crying while the DJ played Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” and talked about the sweet, vibrant soccer player who’d never kick another goal, never make us laugh again.

And we vowed to remember.

To honor Nick as the 20th anniversary of his passing approached, I took to social media to ask our old friends to share some memories of him. The response was overwhelming. More than 30 of my old classmates, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in more than a decade, posted messages with their stories.

Some of the memories were humorous.

“I do remember one specific memory that showed both his soccer skills and sense of humor,” Nathan Donaleski recalled. “It was a hot lunch day, chicken nuggets. Nick bounced the nugget off his foot and into John Anderson's mouth.”

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