Teacher, history enthusiast’s family receives support, stories following brain injury
BUCHANAN — The Kuntz family cousins spent summers growing up in southwest Michigan at their grandparents’ house. The pool provided the perfect spot to play and cool off in the summer heat.
As a result of many of those summers, Ryan Kuntz looks at Jason Kuntz as more of a brother than as a cousin. The Kuntz family still largely resides in Berrien County, and has continued to stay close.
Ryan knew Jason was special to the community and during a difficult time for the family, it has been the community that Jason worked with and for that has shown its support. After suffering a traumatic brain injury after a surgery, the community has stepped up to help the Kuntz family in a big way.
Jason, 32, taught third grade at Three Oaks Elementary School in Three Oaks. He spent several years of his teaching career at Buchanan Community Schools system, and has a passion for history.
Jason was scheduled to have a delicate brain surgery in March to remove a tumor on the thalamus. Due to COVID-19, the operation was initially delayed. When he did have the surgery weeks later, he suffered a hemorrhage. The injury caused what the family has been told is irreparable damage. His family has been told by physicians that Jason will likely not recover. Jason is resting at his parents’ home, receiving care from Hanson Hospice Center.
Ryan set up a GoFundMe to help assist the family with costs related to medical expenses, current care and for an eventual memorial tribute for Jason. The initial goal for the campaign was $10,000.
“We got $10,000 in the first two hours after I shared it on Facebook,” Ryan said. “It just blew us away.”
By Thursday afternoon, just six days after the campaign was created, the amount raised surpassed $38,000. The outpouring of support shocked Ryan.
“When we first set it up, we set it up for $10,000. I honestly thought that would be really good, considering the circumstances right now. A quarter of the people are unemployed, and there are a lot of people struggling financially. It shows the good side of humanity and social media.”
Without having the ability of friends and community members being able to drop by and offer support in a traditional manner, the GoFundMe site has become a place where those who know Jason have left memories and stories for the family. The memories range from Jason’s time working at the Niles Martin’s Super Market, football rivalries and of his overall kindness and openness.
Jason’s parents, Mike and Sharon, and brother, Bryan, are well known in the area.
“With Jason being a teacher and so active in the community, being such a great guy and a very social guy, he has had an effect on a lot of people,” Ryan said. “Many people in the area know of them and think highly of them. I think [the GoFundMe] gave a lot of people an outlet to support in a time when you can’t just swing by and give a hug.”
Creating a history club after school for students, and speaking about historical events and history at local libraries were ways that he communicated his passion for the subjects.
In 2019, he spoke at the Niles District Library about Amelia Earhart.
“He was really big into the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Ryan said. “I know he did a class on that and the circumstances on when it sank. I remember that being a real powerful one that he did that a lot of people really liked.”
In the way that Jason loved to share history and its stories, Ryan will now give back the stories shared with him on the GoFundMe page to Jason’s parents. He plans to collect the stories that friends and community members are sharing there to put together for the parents to read through.
“It’s so appreciated what everyone has done for them, and for everyone who has reached out,” Ryan said. “It means a lot to [the family].”