COVID-19 has taken the life of a beloved former English teacher at Riverside-Brookfield High School. On Oct. 1, Kimberly Hayes died from complications of COVID-19 in Key West, Florida, where she had moved after retiring from RBHS in 2019. Hayes was 58.
After retiring, Hayes continued to teach English in Florida at a middle school in the Florida Keys. She became sick this summer and had been on life support for about a month.
Hayes was removed from life support at 4:05 p.m., which was 3:05 p.m. Central time, the very moment the final bell rang at RBHS for the week, to honor her dedication to the school. She died 13 minutes later.
Hayes, who often taught freshmen, was a teacher at RBHS for 33 years. She was known as a beloved, encouraging teacher to many generations of students.
“I can’t even tell you what a wonderful bright light she was to so many of us,” said Cindy Vitek, the president of the RBHS PTO who knew Hayes as the faculty advisor to the Clarion in the late 1980s when Vitek was a Clarion reporter and editor.
Vitek remembers that Hayes would stay late with the student editors once a month when the newspaper was manually laid out and never rushed the student editors or left them alone. She would stay as long as it took to complete the work.
“She was an encouraging human being and always looked for the good, all the time,” Vitek said. “She was such a good person in so many ways.”
Vitek’s son, Joey, who graduated from RBHS in 2019, also was taught by Hayes. In a 2019 interview for a story about Hayes retiring, Joey Vitek said that Hayes was a special teacher.
“Oh my God she was amazing,” said Joey Vitek who was in Hayes’s freshman honors English class. “She was enthusiastic about teaching and had an extreme enthusiasm about reading books. She was one of the first teachers to make reading fun in school.”
Hayes was honored on Monday at RBHS with a moment of silence, introduced by one of her closest friends at RBHS, English Department instructional coach Wendy Cassens, during morning announcements.
On Friday, Cassens shared with other teachers a passage from one of Hayes’ favorite books “The Once and Future King.”
“They made me see that the world was beautiful if you were beautiful and that you couldn’t get unless you gave. And you had to give without wanting to get.”
Assistant Superintendent Kristin Smetana was also close to Hayes. In 2014 when Smetana was promoted to principal, Hayes replaced her for one year as the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction before deciding to go back to the classroom.
“Kimberly was a dear friend, colleague, teacher, and mentor to so many over the 33 years at RB and in the community,” Smetana wrote in an email to the Landmark. “Kimberly’s compassion and grace came through in all that she did. She took on many different roles at RB throughout the years, from Rouser sponsor, to assistant musical director, to assistant principal. In each role, Kim poured her heart and soul into doing the best job she could for staff and students.”
Smetana said school officials are still trying to figure out a way to honor Hayes at RBHS. The Class of 2022, the last RBHS class whose members that Hayes taught, is establishing a Kimberly Hayes RBHS Class of 2022 Scholarship Fund. Those seeking to donate to the scholarship fund should contact the school as details are still being figured out.
Hayes taught a number of students who are now staff members at RBHS including counselors Mike Reingruber and Renee Thomas, Spanish teacher Jill McGrath, Assistant Director of Technology and Webmaster David Fischer, and security staffer Jeff Quintana.
“She was one of most kind and caring and patient teachers I definitely had in my four years here,” Reingruber said in 2019. “Students always came first, and you could tell she was really passionate about what she did, which rubbed off on her classes.”
Hayes grew up in Hinsdale and graduated from Lyons Township High School and Elmhurst College. She began teaching at RBHS in 1986.
Hayes lived most of her adult life in Brookfield and for many years was the owner of the “purple house,” a Victorian on Grand Boulevard that was painted purple, her favorite color.
“She was quirky, for sure,” Vitek said.
Hayes is survived by her two sons, Erick and Jack Hayes, and a sister Kathleen Schwitzner. Visitation will be Oct. 7 from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Hitzeman Funeral Home, 9445 31st St. in Brookfield. A church service will be held at the Cornerstone Community Church, 9008 Fairview Ave., in Brookfield, at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 8.
Visit HitzemanFuneral.com for additional details.