As Kathie Natzke went out to lunch with her husband Jim on Mother’s Day for the first time without their son Paul, she knew a few days this year were going to “suck.”
Paul, who was born with spina bifida, died last August after an unexpected accident. The 15-year-old Fitchburg resident was on the Verona Area High School track and field team, where he competed in wheelchair shot put and the 100-meter wheelchair race, of which he won the WIAA medal.
“My first Mother’s Day without him, I thought, ‘ooh, this is going to suck,’” she said. “And then we started talking about what else is going to suck? Father’s Day. That’s going to suck.
“And what’s going to suck even the most is the anniversary,” she added. “We were like, ‘What can we do to make it more of a celebration of his life instead of a big pity party?’”
They hope an upcoming party, dubbed “PaulPalooza,” can help turn that pity around. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at The Hop Garden, 6818 Canal St., Paoli.
It was born out of an online party they planned last December via Facebook that served as a “kindness campaign,” in which they asked people to do something nice for another person in Paul’s memory.
“I know you’re not supposed to talk about (the nice things you do for people), but for me, for other people to do something in Paul’s memory and then tell me about it, it made me feel good,” she said. “When we already had ‘Paul’s Party’ established, and when we decided to do something for the anniversary, we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we have a real party?’”
Natzke said the goal is to make the event as reflective of Paul’s life as possible, with live music from eight different musical acts, food that reflects his love of cheese – the one cheesy food item they weren’t able to incorporate as of yet was macaroni and cheese – and a fundraiser for three charities that mattered to him.
One organization benefiting from the event, The Wisconsin Skeeters Sled Hockey team, was a large part of Paul’s life, Natzke said, as he played the sport for close to a decade.
“It was his thing,” she said. “He really, really loved sled hockey. It really helped him grow.”
The second organization, Baycliff Health Camp, was a seven-week summer camp that included therapy-based activities that helped him gain independence.
Donate Life Wisconsin will also be a benefactor of the PaulPalooza fundraiser. Natzke said that while Paul was alive, the organization didn’t mean as much to them, but following his death and the donation of his heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and eyes, it turned into something significant.
“It was super cool – he had spina bifida, so his body failed him his whole life while he was here – but he was able to save other people,” she said.
A booth at the event will also raise funds for the Verona and Belleville Track and Field teams that Paul competed with.
The event will also include a basket raffle at 4:30 p.m., which Natzke said will reflect his love of sports through the prizes given away.
“The whole purpose of it is to remember Paul, and celebrate him,” she said. “We’re trying to incorporate as much as we can so that people who knew him will be like, ‘ahh, Paulie loved that,’ and people who don’t know him can come and go, ‘Gosh, this is fun. I bet he was a cool kid.’”