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Several west suburban students awarded O’Laughlin scholarships

Jane Michaels
jmichaels@pioneerlocal.com | @janemichaels22
May 27 1:45 p.m.

Five scholarships have been awarded to seniors at three high schools to honor the memory of Kelli Joy O’Laughlin.

“It makes us feel great,” said John O’Laughlin, who presented the awards with his wife, Brenda.

The couple started a foundation after their daughter was killed by an intruder in October 2011 at their Indian Head Park home. Kelli, 14, was a freshman at Lyons Township High School.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to remember Kelli, stay connected to the community and recognize some of the students doing great work,” John O’Laughlin said. “They all do things differently and have different focuses, and it’s really a pleasure for us. It helps us heal.”

Each of the seniors received a $1,000 scholarship renewable for four years, based on their grades, activities and recommendations from a teacher or coach. The applicant’s essay told how he or she demonstrates compassion and caring.

The O’Laughlins presented the first award May 20 to Gloria Tabaczyk of Hinsdale during the senior awards night at Hinsdale Central High School.

“Her dedication and good works have had a ripple effect, and it’s not overstating things to say she has helped make the world a better place,” Brenda and John O’Laughlin said in a statement.

In earning the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award, Tabaczyk coordinated two projects. She made and sent friendship bracelets to orphan girls in Cape Town, South Africa. Tabaczyk also partnered with a local quilting guild to make 135 dresses out of pillowcases for girls in an African village.

The O’Laughlins gave hugs and three scholarships May 23 to Lyons Township High School seniors Megan Niedermeyer and Natalie Ruffner from La Grange and Margaret Schwartz from Western Springs.

“Maggie wrote about her random acts of kindness. When she was feeling bad, she liked to bake at home and would drop off treats to make people feel better, “ John O’Laughlin said.

Schwartz and Ruffner were on the school’s tennis team with Kelli. Ruffner got her start in volunteering through the Every Monday Matters Club at Gurrie Middle School. She helped plant an organic garden at the school, worked at a food pantry and gave veterans a royal welcome returning from an Honor Flight. Ruffner will attend the University of Iowa.

Niedermeyer, a volleyball player, volunteered extensively at St. Francis Xavier Church, where she compiled 290 hours of service. She taught a religious education class, volunteered for the youth group, served as a Eucharistic minister, was a leader for a Relay for Life team and helped students with special needs.

Niedermeyer, who said she didn’t get the chance to meet Kelli, said she’s pleased to recognized as having qualities similar to Kelli.

“Everyone looked up to her,” Niedermeyer said.

The fifth student recognized is Nazareth Academy senior Thomas Harrington of Clarendon Hills. He has been a Nazareth Service Team leader, athlete and student leader with the school’s football and lacrosse programs. He also was active in student government.

In presenting the award, Brenda O’Laughlin highlighted Harrington’s ability to lend a hand to those in need, as well as his generous spirit.

“When Brenda and I speak, we try to tie the qualities of the recipients back to Kelli,” John O’Laughlin said. “It’s very nice for us to see people are so appreciative of receiving the awards.”

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