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Amy Hall never knew Nate Metschke, but the Laurel-Concord/Coleridge teacher broke into tears Tuesday when talking about him.
The Neligh-Oakdale band teacher’s impact and unexpected death on Christmas Eve inspired Hall’s students, who also did not know Metschke, to start a penny war with other schools to raise money for his widow, Darcy, and their three children.
“I didn’t know him, but I’ve read and heard about the impact he had on people,” Hall said tearfully. “It’s so moving to me that he had three little kids, and being a teacher, we really have to stick together. That’s what I see with Nate Metschke — this is a chance for these teaching communities to come together and really make an impact for those three little kids who are left behind.”
Metschke died the evening of Dec. 24 after complications during surgery to remove a cancerous mass from his liver. More than 1,000 people attended his celebration of life.
Hall shared Metschke’s tragic story with her three children. Her oldest child, Delaney, suggested the middle school student council organize a penny war to benefit the family. Following lots of discussion and ideas, Laurel-Concord/Coleridge students gave it their full support and began inviting other schools to participate. The penny war will end Feb. 14.
Hall started sending out emails late last week said she’s unsure how many schools are involved, but her list of commitments includes Clearwater, Elgin, Hartington, Wayne, Lakeview and Palmyra.
Among those Hall contacted was her sister, Clearwater third-grade teacher Deb Neumann, who immediately jumped on board. Just two days into the penny war, Clearwater students have collected several containers full of pennies.
Among the first to bring in pennies were eighth-grader Harper Klabenes and third-grader Damien Hupp, who brought in an ice cream pail full of pennies. Darcy Metschke taught fourth grade in Clearwater for several years before taking a position at Neligh-Oakdale. Among her Clearwater students was Klabenes.
“I had Mrs. Metschke in fourth grade, so I wanted to help them,” Klabenes said. “And Mr. Metschke was a good guy. I got to know him at honor band in fifth and sixth grade. Seeing him teach and be so passionate about music made me want to help his family.”
Hupp said he doesn’t know the Metschke family well, but he wanted to do what he could for the family during this difficult time.
“It’s good to help out people who are having troubles in their lives,” said Hupp, who added that he didn’t even have to ask his dad for the pennies because he wanted to help, too.
Neumann said Clearwater students haven’t set a goal of how many pennies they want to collect or how much money they want to raise. Instead, they’re talking more about why they are doing it, which is to help others.
For Neumann, who has taught at Clearwater for 28 years, it’s a way to help a former co-worker and fellow educator and also instill a lesson of kindness. She said Metschke was a kind-hearted man, and this act of kindness is fitting of his character.
“Nate taught lots of lessons over the years, and now we need to take over for him,” Neumann said. “This is a time to come together and know that kindness is the most important character trait we want our students to carry on. It’s not about how much money we raise. These are life-long lessons for our kids.”
Hall said she’s encouraging schools all across the state to join the penny war and show kindness to the Metschke family. Schools participating are asked to report their final numbers on Facebook or Twitter on Feb. 14 with the hashtag, #teamnate. She said afterward, checks should be mailed directly to Darcy Metschke.
“The whole idea of checks coming from all of these different people — how fun will that be for her to get in the mail,” Hall said. “I hope that on the 14th we can see which school made the most money. Our student council is going to send that school a pack of fun.”