CLEVELAND — Ryan Reineke mentioned to teacher Joel Boehlke last spring he was having a hard time finding a summer job.
Reineke, then a sophomore at Cleveland High School, had only known the technology and engineering teacher for a few months. But already they had built a bond that included Reineke sharing and receiving guidance about much more than academics.
Boehlke soon came back with a job offer that further grew their relationship from teacher and student to mentor and mentee.
“I don’t know where I would be without him,” Reineke says.
Now Reineke is saying thank-you by organizing an online fundraiser for his mentor.
Boehlke has used a wheelchair for 12 years after a crash on a sledding hill left him paralyzed.
While Reineke helped his favorite teacher build a shed, paint the garage and do other handyman work this summer, he noticed Boehlke often had trouble getting over uneven terrain. Once they even had a fright when Boehlke when stuck nearly overturned as Reineke worked to help free him.
In November Reineke, now a junior, said he appreciated Boehlke’s help building a desk to make learning at home a little easier.
In December Reineke came across a web series about a secret Santa program giving surprise gifts, one of which was an all-terrain wheelchair. Reineke decided his favorite teacher also should have one.
Reineke set up a GoFundMe page asking classmates, alumni and others who have been touched by Boehlke to help him get a new wheelchair. Reineke has some learning disabilities and two of his teachers at Cleveland High School helped him write his fundraising appeal.
“I would like to give to the teacher that has given so much to me and other students at our school,” the page states.
Boehlke, who taught at New Ulm Public Schools and South Central College before coming to Cleveland seven years ago, said he has shied away from past fundraising proposals. But “this time it just felt right,” he said.
Reineke is a kind young man who is “always thinking about what others need over what he needs,” Boehlke said.
The wheelchair Reineke picked out has a rubber tank-like tread system. He also wants to buy upgrades including a plow attachment to allow Boehlke to plow snow off his driveway and a ramp to get the new wheelchair into vehicles. Total cost is about $20,000.
Since launching the page a few days ago, Reineke has raised more than $5,000.
To donate go to: gf.me/u/zfsqxr.
If the fundraiser is a success and a new chair arrives soon, Boehlke said his first excursion would be out onto a lake for some ice fishing.
Even if Reineke’s efforts don’t yield a new wheelchair, Boehlke said he won’t be disappointed. The GoFundMe page has prompted many current and former students, parents and colleagues to reach out. And their kind words have been just as rewarding.
“If all I get out of it is nice comments — I’m good,” Boehlke said.