Fund set up for family of Amherst teacher

AMHERST ­– Joel Vitchkoski was 52 when he died on Valentine’s Day, on the afternoon of his father-in-law’s funeral, leaving his wife, Kim, and their three teenage sons.

On the morning of Feb. 14, after the Vitchkoski family had driven from Merrimack to Ohio and were preparing for the funeral, Joel was taken to a local hospital in an ambulance and died there in the afternoon.

It was so sudden, said Kim, a Spanish teacher at Souhegan High School. Joel had blood pressure and heart problems but was on medication and everything seemed under control.

After he died, Kim had to grieve for her husband before she had time to grieve for her father. At the same time she had to deal with ­­– and is still dealing with – mountains of paperwork, including her oldest son’s financial aid forms for college, as well as Joel’s will and everyday bills.

Joel was the family cook and managed the family finances.

Then there was health insurance. Kim has two part­-time teaching jobs, and the family depended on Joel’s insurance from his job as a technical writer. So Kim also had to grapple with the complicated decisions involved in applying for new federal health insurance.

By the time Kim and her sons – Josh, Dylan and Jared ­­– were back in New Hampshire, the school winter vacation was over and she went right back to work at Souhegan on March 3.

She was glad she did. Conjugating Spanish verbs with teenagers was a welcome distraction and the kindness of her students and colleagues was more comforting than she could have imagined.

“The kids were wonderful. They all made me cards in Spanish,” she said during a recent interview at the school.

And there are the blessings people can bestow with the help of the Internet. Kim’s niece, Mary Francis Drake – who also prepared Joe’s memorial service in Ohio, in the same church where Kim and Joel were married two decades ago – also started a fundraising campaign on the online site GiveForward, where donations go directly to Kim’s family.

And a fellow teacher signed the Vitchkoskis up for a website called meal, where people can pick a date to bring meals, and that has been an enormous help, Kim said. Six weeks after they returned from Ohio, meals are still being delivered every two or three days to their home in Merrimack.

“So many people have come to me and said ‘How can I help?’” said Kathleen Desmond, Kim’s friend and the head of Souhegan’s World Languages Department.

But Desmond is not really surprised. Kim is well known as a “person who will do anything for anyone,” she said. “That’s why people are being so generous with you,” she told her friend as she sat near her during the interview.

And it’s not just friends and colleagues who havehelped. Strangers, as well, have reached out, sending meals, cards and donations.

“Neighbors, friends, teachers were fighting over who would plow my driveway. Everyone has been amazing since minute one,” Kim said. “Friends of friends who don’t even know me have donated.”

She is especially grateful to everyone at the high school.

“Souhegan is an amazing community … when something happens, they’re there for you.”

The aftermath of the family tragedy supplied lessons, said Kim, about not taking anything for granted and about not putting things off.

But the best lesson has to do with the goodness of people,­ how the residents of Amherst, Mont Vernon and Merrimack “take care of their own,” she said. “We are so lucky to live where we do.”

To donate to the Vitchkoski through GiveForward, visit www.give

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at or 673-3100, ext. 304.