Kristoffer James Grahnke, 30, of Loves Park, died on July 24, 2017, three years after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Showing courage, humor and unwavering faith in God, he wrote about his experience with ALS in his blog "Gronks Finding Grace," while organizing friends and family into the Gronk's Grace fundraising team in support of ALS research and services for ALS patients.
Born in Oak Park on Nov. 1, 1986 to Gwen Gotsch and the late Lon Grahnke, he attended Grace Lutheran School in River Forest and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School.
He found his calling during his high school years, working with cognitively disabled children in respite work and at the West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA) summer day camp. He received his bachelor's degree in education from Valparaiso University in May 2009 and began his special education teaching career at Prairie Oak School in Berwyn.
Mr. Grahnke completed a master's degree in education at the University of Illinois at Chicago specializing in behavior intervention. He met his wife, Michelle (nee Jamerson), when she was a student at Concordia University in River Forest. They were married on Aug. 3, 2013.
In early 2014, Mr. Grahnke began to experience symptoms that would ultimately be diagnosed as ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that slowly takes away a person's ability to move, swallow, talk and breathe.
He and Michelle moved to the Rockford area in the summer of 2014, when he joined the teaching staff at Whitman Post Elementary School in Rockton. He managed his classroom from a power wheelchair and inspired both students and colleagues with his determination to continue to enjoy life, even as ALS took so many things away. He retired from teaching in June 2016 because of his illness.
In 2015 and again in 2016 he traveled to Washington, D.C., for ALS Advocacy Days. He organized the Gronk's Grace team of friends, family and colleagues to raise money at the annual Walk to Defeat ALS as well as at a car show at the Rockford Speedway in May.
The ALS Association honored him with its Iron Horse Courage Award at the Iron Horse Ball in Chicago in the winter of 2016.
Mr. Grahnke is survived by his wife, Michelle; his mother, Gwen Gotsch; his siblings, Kurt Grahnke and Eliza Grahnke; his in-laws, Vickie and Don Jamerson, who loved and cared for him during his illness; and the many, many people, far and wide, who have been blessed by his writing and friendship.
Services have been held. Memorial gifts may be made to the Gronk's Grace team at the Rockford Chapter's Walk to Defeat ALS. His blog may be read at www.gronksgrace.blogspot.com.
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