The tragic death of Lincoln-Way Central's football player, 16-year-old Austin Lempera of New Lenox put a damper on traditional Thanksgiving Day celebrations.
The funeral for Lempera, who died Nov. 19 of an apparent heart attack while working out in the basement of his family's home, was crowded with mourners young and old. The mass was held at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Frankfort.
At the earlier prayer service at Kurtz-Goodale Memorial Chapel, 65 Old Frankfort Way, somber-looking family members, friends and students huddled close as they attempted grapple with the loss of a friend known for making people laugh.
His girlfriend of 14 months, Cassidy Cozen, a junior at Lincoln-Way Central High School, will miss him terribly. Reflecting for a moment on the good times, she said, "He always took me places and always surprised me. He always made the best of a situation."
Fond memories that will live on forever
Other friends shared bits and pieces of the life of the young man who is survived by parents Connie and Steve Lempera and his 19-year-old brother Westly Lempera.
Standing about 10 feet away from the closed door to the visitation room where the family was taking time to pray in private, friends Sam Wisniewski, 16, Manhattan and Emily Franzese, 16, New Lenox, both juniors at LWC, chatted about Austin's funny and finicky ways with his Ford Excursion. In spite of the sadness that was thick in the room, the memory of Austin's penchant for keeping his vehicle clean evoked a smile.
"He wouldn't let you touch the car right after he waxed it," said Sam. And oh, he hated it when someone spilled something in the car like the bottle of Sprite that Emily accidentally tipped once while riding with Austin and the container of ketchup that slipped off Sam's lap.
In the vestibule of the church, Michael Broderick, a 17-year-old senior from Providence High School, offered a peek into Austin's early life. Having palled around since pre-school, Broderick knew Austin well. Once when the two were about 6 years old, Broderick said, "I remember riding bikes. He got his shoelace caught in the spokes." It was so tangled that "his mom had to cut his shoe off" to get his foot away from the tire.
In a eulogy, Austin's friends agreed that "you could hear his laugh a mile away. He was the guy that everybody wanted to be around." Along with being known as a varsity football player, Austin was one of a nine-member group dubbed the "Goon Squad." His nickname was "Lumpy."
Sad but still politely sharing moments with family and friends in the vestibule, Austin's dad simply said, "We'll go on."
Lempera, a high school junior, was an offensive lineman on the Lincoln-Way Central Knights football team.
According to the Will County Sheriff's Department, family members found Lempera lying on the floor in the basement workout area of his home on Giddington Court. He was lying next to an iPod and a jump rope. New Lenox Fire Protection District was called to the scene at 6:50 p.m. on Nov. 19.
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