A group of Marian Central Catholic High School alumni have started a scholarship to honor the memory of Laura Caldwell, a "positive" and "lively" former classmate of theirs who died March 1.
Caldwell, who had been a Marian Central Alumni Excellence award winner, died at 52 after a "long, fierce battle" with breast cancer, according to her obituary. She was a litigation attorney, novelist and Loyola Law professor who founded Loyola's Life After Innocence program, which helps exonerees find jobs, housing or go back to school.
Caldwell's younger sister, Katie Caldwell Kuhn, who lives in Arizona, said the Life After Innocence program was one of the greatest things Caldwell did.
"She touched a lot of people and helped a lot of people with that," Caldwell Kuhn said. "And that organization still exists and will continue to exist and be of great use to a lot of people."
Caldwell's father, William Caldwell, who preceded her in death, also was a lawyer who practiced in Woodstock. She was the oldest of four siblings, Caldwell Kuhn, Matthew Caldwell and Christi Smith.
Laura Littner, a teacher in Marian Central's social science department, said she and Caldwell had never lost touch from high school, where they met while being on the cheerleading team and both graduated in 1985.
In high school, Littner and Laura Caldwell were "yin and yang opposites," she said, but put together, they were the perfect duo.
"She was brave. I was a chicken," Littner said. " So she would encourage me to do stuff, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and I was the voice of reason, 'we're going to get in trouble.' ... She was always a risk taker."
Laura Caldwell's encouragement of Littner didn't end in high school, though they went to different colleges. In college, Caldwell tried out and made the University of Iowa's dance team.
"Then she was like, you should try out for [a dance team]," said Littner, who went to Lewis University in Romeoville. "I'm like, are you kidding me? I barely made it junior year; she was like you should [so] I tried out and I made it too. ... She would push me. ... She was always the brave soul."
Littner called Laura Caldwell a "safety net," who gave her the strength to try new things.
"She made my life so much fuller for just knowing her," Littner said.
The class of 1985 is small, Littner said, meaning Caldwell's death hit everyone hard.
To start the scholarship was an empowering thing, she added.
"Instead of feeling like a victim, you are doing something," Littner said.
People can contribute to the scholarship by either sending a check to the school and making it out to Marian Central, putting 'Caldwell scholarship' in the memo line.
People also can donate on Marian Central's website. One the form, people should put Caldwell Memorial after their last name in parentheses, Littner said.
The winner of the scholarship will be announced at the high school's Honors Day before graduation.
Littner said her personal goal is to fund the scholarship for 10 years.
Christi Smith, Laura Caldwell's youngest sister who lives in Texas, said Caldwell would have though it was an honor for her to have a scholarship in her name.
"We loved growing up in the area, and going to Marian was a part of a family tradition," Smith, said.
William Caldwell was part of one of the first classes to graduate from the school, so Smith said her parents were proud to sent their children there.
"That was really passed down to Laura," Smith said. "She was really proud of the Marian community."
Smith said Caldwell was "super fun."
"She walked into every room that was a room full of people, and she left knowing half the people in that room, and she left being friends with half those people as well," Smith said.
Smith admitted it could be hard to be the younger sibling to such a driven older sister.
"She set the standards, whether it was her grades or her job or her interests," Smith said. "But looking back ... it was great to have her as the oldest sibling. She was always there for us."
Caldwell Kuhn said Caldwell loved her time at Marian, and still kept close to the friends she made there.
"All four of us value the friends that we made at Marian and believe in the community aspect of Marian," Caldwell Kuhn said. "This is such a wonderful thing that her friends started. Marian will be in our hearts forever, so it's nice to know that there's a part of Laura that will be at Marian forever, too."