Source: Herald News / Suntimes
JOLIET — Jill Zuleg sat forward in her seat and wiped tears from her eyes Thursday morning as the Will County Forest Preserve District Board honored her son in a significant and lasting way.
The board voted unanimously to rename the Hawk’s Hollow camping area in Messenger Woods after Zuleg’s 16-year-old son, Kyle, who died in October after a large branch fell on him in the preserve.
“Our condolences to you ma’am,” said a board member Jim Moustis, his voice thick with emotion. “Our heartfelt sympathies do go out to you and your family.”
Jill Zuleg did not speak before the board because she was too emotional. But in an interview with The Herald-News after the meeting, she talked about her son and how honored she was by the board’s action.
“I was happy with their decision to rename the campground,” she said. “It’s something that will really memorialize him.”
Camping, she said, was one of his favorite activities.
Kyle, who was a junior and a member of the volleyball team at Neuqua Valley High School, grew to love the outdoors during numerous summer trips to Montana, where his mom grew up. He loved hiking and horseback riding and spending time at his uncle’s cabin.
The Zuleg family, which lives in the Will County portion of Naperville, also participated in annual camping trips in Illinois with friends and their children.
“We try to go to a different place every time,” Jill Zuleg said. “Kyle always looked forward to every one.”
This was the first time the group had camped at Messenger Woods near Homer Glen, Jill Zuleg said. It was a beautiful night and some of the moms were cleaning up after dinner while other adults and kids broke into teams to play flashlight tag.
Kyle and 13-year-old Thomas Harless, also of Naperville, were lying on the ground waiting to “tag” someone with their flashlights when they heard a loud crack. Thomas was able to get up and move a few steps away; Kyle was not. He took the full brunt of the branch, which weighed nearly a ton and fell from a height of 60 to 70 feet, his mother said. Thomas suffered numerous broken bones. Kyle’s spine was severed.
Dads in the group were able to pry the branch off Kyle and Thomas. Jill Zuleg, a nurse, administered CPR to her son. He was taken to a local hospital then airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.
Kyle was pronounced dead two days after the Oct. 16 accident. Seven of his organs were donated to six organ recipients.
“That was the gift he gave, and that’s the kind of kid he was,” Jill Zuleg said.
Kyle had recently attended a presentation on organ donation at school, and the organ donation awareness wristband he received at the event was sitting on his desk when his family returned home from the hospital.
Some teenagers might have thrown the wristband away. Some teenagers might not have gone camping with their parents so often. But Kyle wasn’t just any teenager, Jill Zuleg said. He was athletic, outdoorsy and family oriented.
Even with the forest preserve district honor and the knowledge that her son’s organs have helped so many others, it’s still hard to lose such a son, she said. And she can’t help but wonder, “When you look out at all of the thousands of trees, why did they have to be under that one tree?”