Honoring Lauren Zarembka - One Final Time - June 3rd - "Her Heart Lives On"
In Death Lauren Helps Sick Kids and Much More
Lauren Zarembka was a loving and talented East Providence High School student, whose brief life touched many people. In death, she has touched many more. Lauren died on September 23, 2007 after her 2 ½ year battle with cancer. She fought courageously to live. “We lost Lauren on the first day of fall. It was like an ending and a new beginning. I can’t quite explain it,” her dad, Bruce Zarembka told the Reporter in a 2012 conversation. The Zarembka family funneled their grief into the establishment of the ‘Lauren Ashley Zarembka Memorial Foundation’. The Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing scholarships to assist graduating and continuing students whose studies will be in the disciplines of medicine, music/theater and culinary arts, while also providing funding for families battling pediatric cancer from Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts through the Tomorrow Fund at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Additionally, the foundation supports local music/theater groups on an annual basis.
Lauren's family has melancholy thoughts of what might have been in Lauren's future. "She wanted to work with kids, she was so good with kids and she also may have pursued a career in theatre or acting,” Bruce Zarembka mused. “She probably could have combined a theatrical career while working with children like the Tomorrow Fund or some similar effort."
This year marks an important milestone for the Zarembka Foundation. It is the tenth and most likely the final year for Lauren's fundraiser. "The foundation is close to reaching its goal of full endowment. Over the years, our events have been well attended and supported by so many friends, relatives, acquaintances and local business who have so generously contributed to the foundation’s success. It is our hope that the community will join us for this milestone event and help us to reach our goal of full endowment," said Zarembka.
The days since Lauren's death have certainly taken an emotional toll on her family. "Our grief changes over the years. It may appear to be easier to get through the days and weeks but the grief remains, it's just different," said Zarembka. "We keep Lauren's spirit alive by putting some good back into the community. Her heart goes on."
Since her passing, Lauren's foundation has been a year-round passion for her extended family and friends. "My sister, Maryanne Maciel is the foundation President," adds Zarembka. "She got involved and ran with it. Family and friends all help. It takes a large committee each year. As the annual event approaches, our stress level increases, but it has always worked out."
Some years have raised more money than others for Lauren's fund as contributions have varied. But overall the fund has awarded thousands of dollars to children and families dealing with pediatric cancer and to graduating students for help in college. "Our non-profit foundation has raised about $145,000 over the first nine years. A total of $49,000 in scholarships have been given in Lauren's memory. The first event was held in May of 2008.
The foundation has combined donations to those battling cancer as well as causes relevant to Lauren's passion for music and the arts. "The music department at East Providence High School needed a piano and Lauren's fund was able to purchase and donate a baby grand piano to the high school in 2009. The fund has also helped to sponsor musical productions at both EPHS and Riverside Middle School, schools that Lauren attended and was so active in," said Zarembka.
Lauren's fund has reached out to East Providence recipients as well as many others statewide and beyond. The fund has donated to the Tomorrow Fund, Pediatric cancer patients as Hasbro Children's hospital and other similar charities. "Thanks to Lauren, we have donated over $18,000 for Hasbro families," said Zarembka.
"We have received a lot of statewide support from citizens and businesses. We have regular donors, new donors, some come and go but all have contributed greatly in memory of Lauren. We are close now to reaching our goal of full endowment. In this way, Lauren's heart will be assured of living forever and helping many families forever."
For our readers who may not know the full story of Lauren Zarembka, the following is an update as featured in the Reporter shortly after Lauren's passing:
“I remember the day as though it were yesterday. It was the second of two of the most memorable days in my life. November 4, 1988. At 3:28 AM, Lauren Ashley Zarembka, entered this world. Her mom and I didn’t know if we were having a boy or girl but Lauren didn’t waste any time letting us know - we knew we had a new baby daughter!” These are the words from a loving father who now deals with the loss of that daughter. Bruce Zarembka spent some time with The Reporter recently in a wide ranging discussion in which he reflected on the lasting impact Lauren has had on so many people. Lauren was a promising East Providence High School graduate in 2006. Her road to graduation, however, was more difficult than most. At age 5, doctors found a brain tumor. The tumor was benign and Lauren was closely monitored with MRI’s and other exams for the next several years. “She was doing just fine,” recalled her dad. As Lauren entered grade 7 at Riverside Middle School her tumor began to grow. The ugly tumor was still benign and things were still okay with Lauren. It became clear that this young girl had a talent for music and the arts as she had the lead part in the popular play “Annie”. The young “Annie” was played spectacularly by Lauren and kicked off what would be a wonderful career in theatre. “By the time Lauren got to the high school, she knew she wanted to do more acting. She got the lead part in “Footloose” presented by EPHS.” She was also in the Meistersingers, Choral Ensemble and Flag Corp as well as helping patients in the ‘Tomorrow Fund Clinic’.
Lauren’s health, however, would take a sad turn around her junior year. Before a class trip to Italy, Lauren began to experience bad headaches. “She was okay though and wanted to go on the trip. Her will and resiliency took over and she made the class trip with little difficulty,” said her Dad. It wasn’t long after returning home that Lauren wasn’t feeling well however. There were trips to the Emergency Room and more MRI’s.
The tumor had come back and it was malignant now. She had surgery during her junior year. Before her young life would end, Lauren Zarembka would have some six surgeries and receive chemo therapy and radiation treatment at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. In the midst of her cancer treatment that junior year, Lauren kept up practice for her role in Footloose. “I think what got her through that period (the play and treatments) was her strong will and unbelievable tenacity. She wasn’t going to miss being the lead in that play,” said her Dad. “She was in the hospital right before the play and was practicing her lines while in her hospital bed. She told me to ‘tell Mr. Man (play director Jim Manchester) that I’ll be there’!” Within two weeks of brain surgery, Lauren Zarembka was on stage performing the lead role in Footloose. “The character of Ariel called for a beautiful, vivacious, strong-willed yet vulnerable actress. Lauren brought all of these characteristics and more to the part that she was born to play,” recalled now-retired EPHS Theatre Director Jim Manchester. “Lauren got the coveted lead and defied the odds to breathe life into that lead. Struggling against debilitating headaches from a growing life-threatening tumor, Lauren honed, owned the part of Ariel, defied the pain and exemplified beauty, courage, strength, and fortitude on stage so that character and actress became one,” said Manchester. It is obvious that both Manchester and current EPHS music director Maryanne LaSorsa were moved very deeply by Lauren Zarembka. “For me, the director, the most poignant moment came as Lauren sang the song ‘Almost Paradise’. Her lovely voice assailed the lyrics, and brought tears to my eyes every time I heard her sing,” said Manchester.
Lauren would finish her junior year and undergo more treatment and surgery that summer. “Lauren loved life until the very end. She lit up a room whenever she entered and it’s not the dad in me saying that, everyone else would notice that about her,” said Zarembka. Lauren’s parents and her brother Steve get by these days fed by the vibrant and unforgettable life that she lived. “During Lauren’s many hospital stays she was always saying thank you and offering cheery hellos to the staff. She didn’t let the cancer get her down,” he would proudly say.
Lauren’s tumor was officially called Ganglioneuroma, a rare type of cancer. The Zarembkas always thought that she would beat it however. “Boy could she eat!” said her dad. “For something as bad as her cancer, she still loved to eat. We laugh about it sometimes now, through the tears. During her last months and weeks of life she would get cravings for chocolate cake or some fast food. We would take her out to Gregg’s restaurant or Taco Bell late at night and chow down - even though she was always so thin and fit,” smiled Zarembka. “She had such a positive attitude. Lauren taught me so much about life,” said her dad. “I remain positive today because of her legacy and lessons in life.”
Lauren Zarembka had a pretty routine senior year at EPHS. Her cancer was in a bit of remission, she was accepted at the University of Rhode Island and things began to look up. “However, right after Lauren’s senior prom her tumor came back. Lauren viewed this as a temporary setback and figured she would just start classes at URI in January instead of September. But by late November there would be two more surgeries and a 39 day hospital stay at Hasbro’s. “Lauren spent her 18th birthday in Hasbro. After her last surgery she had balance problems, needed a walker and just about 24 hour assistance,” said Zarembka. Amazingly, though, she kept positive. After her last MRI, the doctors told her that nothing more could be done. Lauren died two days later on September 23, 2007.
As Lauren Zarembka's heart and spirit lives on, her family and friends hope that this 10th and probably final memorial fundraiser will be a huge success. "Kind of a reunion," says Bruce Zarembka. "We know life goes on for people. Some of Lauren's friends, now older and with their own families, try to stay in touch but have dropped away as expected. We fully understand as would Lauren. It would be very nice to see everyone again," said a hopeful Dad. One person who will travel home for this final memorial fundraiser is Lauren's brother, Steven. Dr. Steven Zarembka, 31, graduated last month from National University of Health Sciences in Illinois. "Lauren is very proud of her brother."
The Lauren Zarembka Memorial Foundation, “Your Heart Will Go On” fundraiser is on Saturday, June 3, 2017 at St. Brendan’s School Hall from 6:30-11:00 p.m. Tickets for this year’s event are $25.00 and are available for purchase at Schroder’s Deli on Willet Ave. in Riverside or by calling 401-258-6421 or 401-474-9128. There is a Lauren Zarembka Memorial Foundation Facebook page for further information.
As Lauren’s pain grew worse before that opening night of Footloose, LaSorsa and Manchester had a friend of Lauren’s prepared as a backup for the show, 'just in case.' “But Lauren's strength of will, enthusiasm, grit and love for musical theater won out, and she made magic for three memorable nights in March,” said Manchester. Indeed, Lauren Zarembka made magic for all who knew her.