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In remembrance of Rob
WEMOCO auto body class rebuilds bench for late Spencerport teen and his family
Attending a child’s sporting event is one of parenthood’s greatest joys and that was the case when Bill Stultz attended his son Rob’s basketball scrimmage at Spencerport High School on November 28, 1998. Held Thanksgiving weekend, the Blue-Gold Game is an opportunity for the varsity and junior varsity teams to play each other and for alumni who are home for the holiday to reconnect with theiralma mater.
Rob Stultz, age 15 at the time, had made three shots that night and all three went in. “He went into the locker room with a big smile on his face … and that’s how I choose to remember him,” said Bill. Rob collapsed shortly after. An undiagnosed heart condition, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, took his life.
In the months following his son’s death, Bill Stultz looked for a creative outlet, something that would occupy his mind and at the same time be a remembrance to his son. “I saw the work of Paul Knoblauch, a sculptor who creates whimsical benches,” said Bill. The two worked together to create a bench that would represent Rob’s love of sports. The bench also represents all of the sports teams at Spencerport High School, with the basketball and soccer ball on top because those were Rob’s favorites.
“I truly believe the bench helped Bill get through that time and cope with the grief,” said his wife, Donna. She and Bill defied the odds. Together since high school, their marriage survived the loss of their son. Donna credits the incredible support they received from community members and co-workers.
Sixteen years later, that support is still evident. “When you lose a child, nothing new can happen; you can’t make any new memories,” said Donna. “You have to hold on to the memories you have and that is what this bench does.”
The couple would stop by every so often and plant flowers around the bench, but over the years it began to show its age. Donna, who works at Westside News Inc., happened to be talking with her co-workers one day about it being in disrepair when Editor Evelyn Dow overheard. Dow contacted Jackie Finn, communication specialist at Monroe 2 BOCES, and Finn got the ball rolling at WEMOCO Career and Technical Education Center.
Fil Roche, welding teacher, determined that the metal was still in good condition, so in December the Auto Collision and Technology class took on the project. The class refinished the entire bench eliminating the rust and pitting, applying rust inhibitor, priming and painting. After about 200 hours of work, the bench now looks like new.
“Knowing what it was for and what it means to people pushed us to do our very best,” said Tom Pharoah, a student at Churchville-Chili High School.
The class does at least one community service project each year. “I teach my students three skill sets,” said Dan Boyler, Auto Collision and Repair Technology teacher, “how to get a job, professionalism, so they can keep the job, and community service, so they can get a sense of something that is bigger than them.”
“It meant a lot to me to do something good for an old teacher,” said Jonathan Bullers, also a Churchville-Chili student. Stultz, who was a sales representative for a publishing company prior to his son’s death, went back to school to become an earth science teacher and began teaching full time in 2003. He said the decision was directly related to his son’s passing.
Students who also worked on the bench are: Julian Dejesus, Greece Arcadia; Brenden Feeney, Greece Arcadia; Norberto Flores Jr., Gates Chili; Jordan Kibby, Greece Athena; Travis Wooledge, Greece Arcadia; and Christian Davey-Ruell, Hilton. The Stultz family has a fund that they used to pay for the materials and to maintain the garden around the bench.
Now known as the “bench entrance” to Spencerport High School, the area has become a landmark where student athletes sit waiting for their parents to pick them up from practice.
“The students did a marvelous job,” said Bill. “We’re so pleased to see it back and hope the boys understand what this means to us.”
Photos by Walter Horylev