Mailbox project honors beloved teacher, is source of hope
Story by Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
The new mailbox that’s been installed by the entrance to Donovan Catholic, Toms River, has nothing to do with the U.S. Postal Service.
The Little Red Mailbox, as it is known, instead serves as a vessel where anyone can place messages or prayers of hope and where readers may take comfort and find encouragement, especially when dealing with a loss or going through a difficult time.
The mailbox was brought to Donovan Catholic by Sue McKechnie as a tribute to her sister-in-law, Karin Krenek, the school’s beloved drama teacher and English as a Second Language and theater teacher who died suddenly last spring. A blessing of the mailbox was held April 13 during a ceremony led by Father Scott Shaffer, pastor of St. Joseph Parish. Also present were members of the school’s theater group, McKechnie and other members of Mrs. Krenek’s family including her husband, sons, mother and brother.
McKechnie explained that the Little Red Mailbox project began in 2014 with Sue Goodrich, a Kill Devil, N.C., resident who was in need of hope following the death of her mother. Goodrich received permission from town officials to place a red mailbox at an area beach, and ever since, the project has expanded to the installation of mailboxes in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi and New Jersey.
McKechnie, who resides in Virginia, noted that she was also instrumental in having a mailbox installed at Little Island State Park, Va., two years ago, and said the response to date “has been nothing short of amazing with three journals filled in just two years.” The mailbox at Donovan Catholic is the 13th to be installed, and McKechnie she had it personalized with Mrs. Krenek’s trademark statement: “You are valued, you are cherished, you are loved … always loved …” printed on one side while the other side says, “the Little Red Mailbox.”
“The mailbox here will offer students, faculty and the local community an opportunity to reflect not only on Karin but also on personal challenges they may be facing,” McKechnie said.
Along with Mrs. Krenek’s family, student theater group members appreciated how they are able to remember their beloved teacher.
“I knew Mrs. Krenek through the shows,” said junior Jacob Maroukis, who shared that from the first moment they met, “she knew she would get me on stage; anything she would dream up on that stage would come true.
“The mailbox is a great way to not only keep Mrs. Krenek’s memory alive for generations, but it will give the students an outlet now for their memories and feelings they are keeping in their hearts,” Maroukis said.
Fondly recalling Mrs. Krenek as being open-hearted and loving, freshman Andrew Heitmann said, “she would find faith in any show.”
“She could relate Bonnie and Clyde to Adam and Eve,” he said, then added that “the mailbox is a beacon of hope and a symbol of Mrs. Krenek’s love and dedication that she had for Donovan.”
In the six years he knew Mrs. Krenek, Father Shaffer said he found her to be a woman who truly understood what she was called to be doing with the young people of Donovan Catholic.
“As a mother herself, she brought that experience to guiding these young people into finding who they are and what it means to be part of another family, the family community of Donovan Catholic,” he said.
“With Karin, there were no divisions, no animosity, but just always the concern to help these young people learn life lessons which would carry them through their time at the high school and beyond.”
Now as the first anniversary of Mrs. Krenek’s May 18 death nears, Father Shaffer said the timing of the mailbox blessing and the school music was “very poignant.”
“Many of the staff and students have struggled over this past year in dealing with her passing, but today was a simple, fairly quiet way to remember her and what she brought to each one of us,” he said. “My hope is that this mailbox will provide a way for all those who are struggling with any sense of loss, for those who are wishing to express thanksgiving, their homes and dreams.”