SCHERERVILLE — Grimmer Middle School student Jona Rivera said she made a card for teacher Dan Runyan when he was in the hospital earlier this year after suffering cardiac arrest.
After Runyan died a couple of days later at the age of 45, the eighth-grader said she used the card to design one of two T-shirts worn by a large number of the people who filled the school gymnasium Sunday afternoon to celebrate Runyan’s life.
“He was absolutely the best,” Rivera said.
The blue T-shirt spells out Runyan in the form of the Periodic Table and twice repeats the word strong.
“He was always there for us,” she said, explaining the emphasis on the word strong. “He told us all the time to be strong for others.”
Students, fellow teachers, friends and family members came together Sunday to support one another in their grief and share memories and words of praise for Runyan during the memorial service.
The afternoon featured a slideshow of photos from Runyan’s life, including rock music from the playlist he used while working out after having an “aha moment” later in his life and deciding he wanted to make positive changes for himself and his family, said Shawn Hudson, who spoke on behalf of Runyan’s Facebook group Operation no Excuses.
“He found a passion in running,” Hudson said.
While training to take part in a marathon, Runyan was also trying to set a positive example for others through the Facebook group, Hudson said.
“He wanted to share his passion for getting better,” he said.
Hudson called on the crowd Sunday to heed Runyan’s call.
“What are your excuses?” he asked. “Do whatever it is you’re passionate about and drop the excuses.”
Mark Kluemper said he had shared a room at Purdue University with Runyan and later joined a fraternity with him.
He said Runyan acquired the name Hard Rock because of his love of that genre of music, and said Runyan liked to have a good time.
Kluemper said he went on to serve as best man at Runyan’s wedding and Runyan served at his wedding.
“His presence will be missed,” he said. “His laughter will be missed. His teaching will be missed. But he will not be forgotten.”
Runyan’s love for hard rock music was honored by members of the Portage High School band, who played Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd.
Runyan lived in Portage, which was the greatest distance from the Schererville school for any other teacher but fellow science instructor Nick Meyer, who lives in Michigan City.
“He’s the kind of person that everybody likes,” Meyer told the crowd. “Dan was always there when you needed him.”
“What kind of man was Dan?” he asked. “He was the man.”
Meyer said he will attempt to run a marathon to fulfill Runyan’s goal.
Eighth-grader Ben Schmitt said he was on the school track team coached by Runyan.
While Runyan was slower than others at first, Schmitt said Runyan used it as a teaching tool by sharing the message, “Go slow and don’t stop.”
“Life is a marathon,” Schmitt said. “If you don’t pace yourself, you won’t finish.”