Six-year-old Cole Langlois is a mini mite hockey player in the Lakeshore Junior Lumberjacks program.
His dad, his uncle and his cousins are all hockey players, too, and he naturally looks up to all the big guys on the ice.
Cole is going to have a really special moment on Wednesday when he gets to skate with the big guys from the Reeths-Puffer hockey team, and be introduced with them, before R-P’s 6:20 p.m. game against Holland West Ottawa at Muskegon's Trinity Health Arena.
Cole’s uncle, Dustin Langlois, even made a special R-P hockey jersey for him to wear - with a small heart in the upper corner that includes the word "Mom" - and he's more than ready for his exciting moment.
“We gave him the jersey on Saturday, and he was pretty pumped up about that,” said Josie Langlois, Dustin’s wife.
Cole is the son of Jennifer Langlois, a beloved fourth-grade teacher at Reeths-Puffer’s Central Elementary who passed away very unexpectedly over the holidays from a heart attack. She was only 39.
Cole and his dad, Johnny Langlois, have been doing their best to adjust to their tragic loss, and the R-P hockey team is doing what it can to help.
Not only is Cole being introduced on Wednesday as the “youth skater of the game,” but donations will be accepted and there will be raffles and a 50/50 drawing to raise money for the family. The Rockets are hoping to draw a big crowd to show the family how much the R-P community cares.
“I play hockey with her husband, and her brother-in-law Dustin is an R-P grad and a former player and former assistant coach here,” said Reeths-Puffer hockey coach Ryan Martin. “We also have a terrific group of guys on the team who are excited to help out whenever they can. They help at Monday night goalie clinics and learn to skate programs. Anything we can do to help we’re trying to do.”
The thoughtfulness of the R-P hockey program, and so many others in the extended Muskegon hockey community, is not at all surprising to Dustin and Josie Langlois. They knew their friends on skates would be there in the family’s time of need, and they appreciate it beyond words.
Jennifer and her son Cole.
“The Muskegon hockey community has always been such a family,” Josie Langlois said. “They have really stepped up. All of those guys just showed up to offer whatever they could, right away. Johnny has been overwhelmed by all the support he’s received, and he’s super appreciative. It’s really helping him get through it.”
Jennifer Langlois was a gifted educator who loved teaching, adored her students and loved working for the Reeths-Puffer school district, according to her sister-in-law. Her passion for her work came through in everything she said and did.
“When she started teaching at Reeths-Puffer she really gave it her all,” Josie Langlois said. “It was her focus and her passion. Any conversation I had with her was always about the kids in her class. For her, everything was about teaching. She was really excited to have Cole coming into her school, so he would be able to go into her classroom and visit. That was her home.
“Those kids adored her. She related to them. She was able to get to their level and make them feel at home and comfortable. She really loved to be that safety net for a few of the kids who maybe didn’t have that at home.
“We’ve had so many families reach out and say how she was their children’s favorite teacher. So many of the parents are just devastated, because she went the extra mile for the kids.”
Jennifer Langlois with her husband and son.
Mrs. Langlois was determined to constantly improve her teaching skills so she could maximize her effectiveness in the classroom.
“When I started dating Dustin, back in 2010, she was going to CMU for her first master’s degree,” Josie Langlois said. “In one of the last conversations I had with her, she was talking about going back and getting her doctorate. She not only loved to teach, she loved to learn.”
The teacher’s passing was a complete shock to everyone.
She was experiencing chest pains in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, but thought little of it, Josie Langlois said.
“When you’re 39 you don’t think it’s a heart attack,” she said. “She had no underlying symptoms that we knew of. She told Johnny that she thought it was just really bad heartburn, and they both went back to sleep. But he woke up again about 20 minutes later and found her unconscious.”
The R-P hockey team is proud to play a benefit game for the Langlois family.
Jennifer passed away on Jan. 2.
Johnny and Cole Langlois have been working through the challenging time, Josie Langlois said.
“They are doing okay,” she said. “I think Cole is a little too young to completely grasp the situation. He’s dealing with it better than we thought he would. They stayed with us for a week, so he was able to play with his cousins - our two boys - and that distraction was really helpful. He also went back to school after the holiday break, and being with his friends is helpful.
“Johnny is doing the best he can, suddenly being a single parent and dealing with the aftermath of everything. You just never expect something like that.”