Four countries. Several states. Countless acts of kindness. One monster home run. One special boy.
In the wake of nine-year-old Derek Lendosky’s death on Aug. 4, people have been inspired to perform random acts of kindness in honor of Derek.
And, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista dedicated last Friday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics to Derek in response to an impressive Twitter campaign.
The Facebook page “ActsofkindessforDerek” boasted 9,124 “likes” as of Tuesday morning, more than three times the population of the “City on the Move.”
The random acts of kindness began thanks to a classmate of Derek’s father, Steve Lendosky. Jeni Joyce, a 1992 Fennimore High School graduate who now lives in Denmark, Wis., put money in an envelope and mailed it to a random recipient. Included with the gift was a note explaining why.
“ActsofkindnessforDerek” was created on Aug. 8 and within six hours had tallied 549 “likes.” Facebook users began to share stories of their acts of kindness for Derek.
In Ohio, someone paid for the lunch of four strangers without them knowing. In Dubuque, a young man plans to complete 29 acts of kindness for his birthday.
“It has literally snowballed into something wonderful,” Steve said. “It did not take long for people to really get behind it and start doing things.”
The Lendosky family completed their first “ActsofkindessforDerek” on Monday afternoon.
“The big lesson is it feels good to receive something, but it feels even better to give something,” said Derek’s mother, Brandee Lendosky. “Especially when it is anonymous.
“You are trying to make someone smile without needing anything in return. Not credit, not anything.”
Katie Schrader has completed several random acts of kindness in the Madison area this past week, including presenting a woman loading her car with Twizzlers and leaving Starbursts behind on a random windshield.
“The way the Fennimore community comes together in times of tragedy continues to blow me away,” Schrader said. “I’ve never been more proud to be from Fennimore. Many of us didn’t know Derek well, but the effect that he is having on our lives is immeasurable.”
“What parent doesn’t want that,” Brandee asked. “If you have to lose a son or a child, tragically, why wouldn’t you want their memory to do so many good things?
“It is just a way of God reassuring and your child reassuring you. It just shows what a great community we have.”
Steve, who grew up in Fennimore, has been overwhelmed by the response as well.
“I have lived here many, many years but I don’t think I have ever seen a community rally like this,” he said. “It has been amazing.”
Included in the rally was Bautista, Derek’s favorite baseball player. When the Lendosky family attended an interleague game between the Brewers and Blue Jays last June, Bautista threw Derek a ball.
“Bautista threw a ball right to Derek and he caught it,” Steve recalled. “He was Derek’s favorite ballplayer and it wasn’t close.”
On Aug. 7, what would have been Derek’s 10th birthday, Steve tweeted Bautista to let him know he would be burying Derek in his Jose Bautista jersey, with the ball the outfielder had given him.
“I wanted nothing in return,” Steve said. “I was only doing it just for some closure for Derek.
“I didn’t think about a game dedication and I wasn’t thinking about a reply.”
Fennimore High School sophomore Kennedy Lee and freshman Jacob Zintz, two rising stars of Twitter, joined forces Aug. 8 to create the Twitter account @JBGameForDerek. Both hoped Bautista would recognize the tweets and dedicate a game to Derek.
“It just kind of came to us,” Zintz explained. “I said we should do something and she pretty much took it from there.”
With the help of Snapchat, Lee reached out to her Twitter followers and asked them to use the hashtag #JoseBautistaGameForDerek. The duo also posted Facebook statuses to spread the word.
“All of the communities around us, there were teenagers from a lot of towns that really helped us out,” Lee said.
The help was not limited to teenagers in surrounding communities.
Last Friday morning, Jake Zimmermann, formerly of WKOW-TV in Madison, received a direct tweet from a family friend asking if he would help the cause.
Zimmermann sent two tweets, the first being, “#JoseBautistaGameForDerek #GameForDerek #actsofkindnessforDerek @JoeyBats19” and later “@JoeyBats19 Please play a #GameforDerek”.
“Within minutes I got a lot of re-tweets,” Zimmermann said. “The story and requests continued to grow.”
When the tweets came so fast and furious Lee was relegated to “Twitter Jail,” which denies the ability to tweet if a user has reached a limit of 100 tweets per hour or 1,000 per day.
“I re-tweeted a bunch of #JoseBautistaGameForDerek tweets and tweeted a bunch of times myself, and all of a sudden I just couldn’t tweet anymore and I didn’t know why,” she said. “That is when Jacob stepped in to tweet for me.”
Less than 24 hours later, Bautista sent a tweet to Steve Lendosky.
“There are no words to express my deepest sympathy for your loss,” he wrote. “Tonight’s game is for Derek #GameForDerek #DerekRIPmyfriend”
“I didn’t think that it would happen in less than 24 hours,” Lee said.
“I thought it would take a week,” Zintz added.
“We didn’t know how to react,” Brandee said. “It was just so humbling.”
“With all the bad press surrounding athletes, it is nice to see the softer side,” Steve said.
When Bautista crushed his 26th home run of the season in the bottom of the eighth inning, Lee found herself at a loss for words.
“I was crying for a few minutes,” she said. “I was just speechless. I can’t believe it happened that soon.”
“It took me a little bit for what all happened to click,” Zintz said.
“I even shed tears,” Steve said. “It was so cool.”
Zimmermann, now an account executive with Clear Channel Radio in Madison, was overcome with emotion when he heard of Bautista’s home run.
“Watching Bautista run the bases in a game he dedicated to Derek was truly an incredible sight,” he said. “The direct tweets from Derek’s father to Bautista made the night even more emotional.
“It was, I imagine, a moment many in Fennimore will never forget – especially Derek’s family. I think what Jose Bautista did was truly special.
“There were so many people involved in getting the word out to Jose. I’m happy to be a small part of it.”
Bautista now has many more fans in Fennimore.
“I already ordered a jersey,” Zintz said, and Lee is working to order one of her own.
“It is really awesome what he did,” Lee said. “He really helped out the family and the whole community.”
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse freshman Trent Napp has known Steve Lendosky since he was a sixth grader, when he became a manager for the football team.
“We rode on the bus with him and he told us stories,” Napp said. “We had some games before games, throwing the football and trying to hit stuff.
“I came up freshman year in football and he was always there for me. He is a really great guy.”
Napp was impressed with the response for #JoseBautistaGameforDerek on Twitter, which he took part in.
“The Bautista thing came on Twitter and that took over, hardcore,” he said. “It was cool.”
A lifeguard at the Fennimore Pool, Napp was working last Friday when word spread Bautista had dedicated that evening’s game to Derek.
“I was sitting at the pool and Shanda [Strack] told me. I said, ‘What? No way,’” he recalled. “I didn’t know what to say.
“It was awesome. Just for him to take time out of his busy life and notice his fans like that.”
At the pool Friday evening, Napp checked the box score throughout the game. Bautista hit a home run, his 26th of the season, in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“People were like, ‘He hit that one for Derek,’” Napp said. “No, Derek hit that one. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it. He hit that one.”
Lee, Zintz and Napp have all been impressed by the actions of their hometown in the past week.
“In a big city, tragedies like this could happen and no one would bat an eye,” Napp said. But here, it is family. The whole place. All 2,400 of us.
“It is family and that is what is so great about it.”
The outpouring of support in the past week, from friends, families, strangers and MLB baseball players, has been more than Brandee and Derek’s family could have asked for.
“Derek did so much in the time that he was here and he was going to do so many things,” she said. “This is kind of his gift to everyone that is left.
“Take a little piece of me, and spread it on. To be the parents of that, or a member of that, is just the greatest thing ever.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
To learn more of the many random acts of kindness to honor Derek, visit www.facebook.com and search ActsofkindnessforDerek.