Constable: After daughter dies at 26, parents say pay her kindness forward

As the youngest of three children growing up in Arlington Heights, Laura Szejka Zimmer had to be a little feisty and develop a bigger-than-life personality.

“Laura was a bundle of energy from the day she was born,” says her father, Mike Szejka. “She loved being in everything.”

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Laura kindness card

 

One fallout from her busy life as a kid could be seen in the shoes, sports equipment, backpacks, homework, music, instruments and clothing she left scattered throughout the family home.

“I asked her why she couldn’t put her things away where they belonged,” remembers her mother, Caryn Szejka. “She said, ‘Mom, I like to leave a little bit of Laura wherever I go.'”

Saturday, on what would have been her 29th birthday, Laura’s vast congregation of family members, friends and even strangers will spread #ALittleBitofLaura as a way to make the world a little kinder. Touched by the kindness and generosity shown to her during her battle with a rare and aggressive form of colon cancer, Laura talked about her legacy with her family days before her death at age 26 on July 14, 2016.

“For two 20-something kids, we didn’t think about that,” remembers Laura’s husband, David Zimmer. After exhausting surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Laura talked to her husband, parents, her brother Brian and his wife Stefanie, her sister Katie and her husband Greg Hurr, in-laws and friends about how best to honor her memory. They thought of a scholarship or maybe a grant to send someone to music or show choir camp.

“Laura said that rather than do something for just one person, she would like for us to do things for as many people as possible,” her mom explains. “Perform random acts of kindness like the ones that were bestowed upon her. That was how Laura lived her life.”

The #ALittleBitofLaura campaign on Twitter encourages people to do something nice for others and post it. The postcard included with this column can be handed to recipients to let them know that Laura inspired the kindness.

People are encouraged to do nice things and then hand out this #ALittleBitofLaura card in memory of Laura Szejka Zimmer of Arlington Heights.

Last year, the tributes included bags of dog treats handed out at a dog park in Charleston, S.C., gifts of sunflowers to strangers, meals bought for homeless people, books donated in Laura’s name, a contribution to a shelter for battered women in Philadelphia, donations made in her name to worthy charities, blood donations and countless examples of people buying coffee, doughnuts and food for strangers.

“That was her,” David says. “Laura was kind and courageous, funny and incredibly smart. She was also very generous.”

Engaged to be married in 2016, Laura Szejka and David Zimmer moved their wedding to Nov. 1, 2015, after Laura was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of colon cancer.
– Courtesy of the Szejka family/2015

Engaged to be married when she was diagnosed in October 2015, David and Laura moved their wedding to Nov. 1 so they could fight her cancer as a married couple. Laura gave up a wonderful forensic accounting job with Deloitte in Chicago to accept a job as a consultant with Crowe Horwath in South Bend while David, already a veterinarian like his father, pursued his dream of becoming a medical doctor at the University of Indiana Medical School in South Bend.

Vivacious and outgoing, Laura scored a perfect 36 on her college entrance exam, starred in show choir, played in the band and orchestra, and loved competing in softball, volleyball and cross-country at Buffalo Grove High School. Her accomplishments earned Laura a spot on the 2006-2007 Daily Herald Northwest Suburban Leadership Team, as one of 10 area high school students who worked to change the world through volunteerism and encouraging volunteer efforts in others.

The 10 winners of 2006-2007 Daily Herald Northwest Suburban Leadership Team included, front row from left, Caroline Vanacker, Laura Szejka, Brad Nicpon, Ross Hunt and Jennifer D. Harvey, and, second row from left, Kevin Rogacki, Henry Soong, Adrienne Darrow, Abigail E. Bock and Joseph P. Wieczorek.
– daily herald file photo, 2007

At the University of Notre Dame, she majored in accountancy but used her musical talent to sing, beatbox, choreograph and write arrangements for Harmonia, an all-female a cappella group. Always involved in helping others, Laura even won a boxing match against an older, bigger woman to raise money for charity. Most importantly, she built incredible friendships and met her future husband, who played the iconic leprechaun mascot at the school.

When she was nearing the final stage of her life, Laura’s belated bridal shower saw 10 friends, many of them flying in for the event, gather at her old family home in Arlington Heights to celebrate their friend “Shakes” or “Shaka” with her family. Her husband, siblings and their families moved into “Camp Szejka,” too. Together they created a book of “Things We Love About Laura,” with countless stories of when she helped others have fun or overcome obstacles.

Smaller and without any boxing experience, Laura Szejka, wearing University of Notre Dame trunks, won this boxing match in college to raise money for charity.
– Courtesy of the Szejka family

Even while dying, Laura took the spotlight and made people comfortable and welcome. “She was like the glue,” her mom says. “Laura was the one who kept everything together,” her dad says.

Laura died in the family room, surrounded by loved ones. Her wake featured more than 1,000 mourners and 2½-hour waits. Her funeral was at St. Edna Catholic Church in Arlington Heights. Six months later, her mother and sister got matching tattoos on their wrists of a script L for Laura, and her father, brother and brother-in-law got her signature tattooed on the side of their chests, “close to our hearts,” her dad says.

“She was the master of thinking about things that would make a difference. She knew that often generosity breeds generosity in others,” her husband says.

An athlete, scholar and performer, Laura Szejka poses while rehearsing for a play during high school.
– daily herald file photo, 2006

“She filled our lives and the lives of others with her sharp wit, sense of humor, her belly laugh, her creative and often outlandish ideas, and her faith-filled and loving heart,” her mother says. “Laura left a little bit of Laura in everything she did because she did things to the fullest.”

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Daily Herald Leadership team member Laura Szejka

 

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