A squeeze of love in a time of need
Sitting beneath a large umbrella and shade tree, some youngsters and adults encouraged passersby on Third Street SE to stop and have a glass of lemonade, and at the same time, remember the Harberts family.
The lemonade stand was set up by three friends who were students of first grade teacher Rachel Harberts last year.
Rachel and her two children, Emerson, 8, and Jaxon, 12, on Sept. 7 were riding in a car, heading to Blooming Prairie where Rachel taught first grade and Emerson attended as a third grader. Jaxon was a seventh grader at Blooming Prairie High School.
Emerson was killed instantly and Rachel died eight days later of injuries she suffered in a two-car crash on U.S. 14 near Claremont. Rachel's car was struck from behind by a Hummer driven by Tanner Kruckeberg, 24. Jaxon is still recovering at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester.
Second graders Levi Staska, Owen Gimbel and Peyton Lembke were students of Mrs. Harberts first grade class last year.
Levi's father Ryan said the boys wanted to do something for the family and took the advice of Levi's mother Katrina in setting up a lemonade stand.
"The kids recognized a financial burden of the family and wanted to do their part to help," said Ryan. Friend Alicia Petacek helped design the signs for the fundraising project.
A stationery umbrella was placed near the curb of Third Street SE. Passersby would stop, put a donation in a bucket, sign a card for the family and share comments of sympathy with the three boys and their family members.
Levi's brother Brad, a 2018 graduate of Blooming Prairie High School, was also helping at the lemonade stand and said he was a member of Mrs. Harberts' first first-grade class 12 years ago.
"We just wanted to help. . .and guess what, I counted four $100 bills in the bucket," said a happy Levi.
Levi, Owen and Peyton all said they all liked Harberts "a lot" because she made her classes fun.
Reading was an area that Harberts emphasized all the time, said the lemonade boys.
"She would dance on her desk while we were reading and try to keep us focused on reading," Owen said.
Brad remembers learning how to pronounce her name after she told him it rhymed with "sherbet."
Tara Gimbel, a reading specialist at the elementary school, worked very closely with Harberts. She brought her son to the Staska residence to help set up the lemonade stand.
"Rachel cared for every child who walked through her door," said Gimbel.
Gimbel said she was most impressed with how Harberts greeted her students every day. "She treated our kids like her own," Gimbel said.
Gimbel said she recalled a conversation she had with Mrs. Harberts the day previous to the crash. "Rachel was concerned about a little girl having difficulty in her class but with caring in her voice, said she was getting it."