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John Adams School students use 'hugs' to keep lost friend close

Hunter Biermeier never worried about what others thought of him, not if it could make someone laugh, not if he could light up a face with a smile.

Claire Drucker, Sam Hanson
Claire Drucker and Sam Hanson work on a blanket during a fleece blanket making event in honor of their John Adams Middle School classmate and friend Hunter Biermeier who was killed in an ATV crash in 2011. The blankets are donated along with a stuffed bear to area hospitals to be given to siblings of children who are in the hospital.

Hunter Biermeier never worried about what others thought of him, not if it could make someone laugh, not if he could light up a face with a smile.

He had a uniqueness, a cut-across-the-grain quality that made him stand out. He liked to playfully provoke. He would carry a stuffed giraffe to basketball tournaments, knowing he would get a rise out of people, secure in the knowledge of who he was. He reveled in telling people his favorite color was pink.

When the 12-year-old died in an ATV accident in November 2011, it was a gut punch to many of his John Adams Middle School classmates.

"I was in a kind of shock for a while," said John Adams classmate Sam Hanson, 14. "He was an extremely lively person, and it's kind of hard to realize that they're gone."

More than a year after his death, Hunter's memory is still actively cherished by classmates. This fall, the school dedicated a plaque and banner in his honor. JA has hosted assemblies where students shared stories about his humor and compassion. Recently, more than 30 classmates gathered in the school's cafeteria after school to tie blankets for Hugs from Hunter, a foundation that carries forward the qualities that defined him.


The foundation was created to give comfort to children of hospitalized siblings, a concept that Hunter would have loved, his dad, Kyle Biermeier, says.

The idea was the brainchild of Hunter's cousin, Marli Overgard, a Chanhassen High School student. After his accident, Hunter had been flown to La Crosse Gundersen Lutheran Hospital. At the hospital, Overgard noticed that Hunter's siblings, Elliana and Tanner, now 8 and 11, had little to comfort them as their parents, Kyle and Teresa, were swept up in the swirl of events surrounding their fatally injured son.

The foundation, which has since won a national award, seeks to provide that comfort by providing those children with Teddy Bears and blankets. Kyle, Hunter's father, said he and his wife saw the foundation as the perfect way to honor their son.

"He had this soft spot in his heart for kids, especially little kids," Kyle said. "He loved to make people laugh."

Kyle witnessed that special sympathy and compassion Hunter had for children at different times. One time, while visiting a classmate at a hospital, Hunter noticed a sick little boy there who, it was clear, had spent a lot of time at the hospital. Before long, Hunter was making the boy laugh and giggle. Kyle recalls how the experience uplifted Hunter.

"He just loved it," Kyle said. "When we left the hospital, he said, 'Mom, I want to be able to read to kids in the hospital to help put a smile on their face."

Kyle estimates that the foundation supplies about 30 bears and blankets a month to Gundersen. Emergency medical helicopter teams fly with them to crash sites, and will give them to kids to comfort them. The ambulance service in La Crosse also carries them to emergencies. The foundation hopes to eventually open a supply channel to Mayo Clinic, but has yet to develop a niche with the clinic, he said.

More than a year later, some of Hunter's classmates still struggle with the loss, said JA student council adviser Nichole Bergerson. It's why such get-togethers like the recent blanket-tying event are so important. "They are good support for each other," she said.


As the students worked, blankets of various colors and prints were stacked on a table, a testament to the special qualities that classmates remember Hunter by.

"We just wanted to do something in memory of him. (It's something that) he would have done," said JA student Claire Drucker.

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