Eleven-year-old Rob Behl wears the same T-shirt every day he has gym class at Bayside Middle School. It’s been worn and washed so many times the original bright white has turned to a near cream, but the dark red letters on the back remain unfaded.
The T-shirt and the name on it belonged to Rob’s older brother, Mike Janasik. Mike wore it as a Nicolet basketball player — something Rob aspires to be, in his brother's footsteps.
As Rob talks more about his brother, he never stops smiling, because they were, as Mike candidly coined, “Best Brothers.”
“I miss his loving personality,” Rob said. “He never did anything mean. He was really nice to me, always did stuff with me. He came to my games.”
On July 13, 2009, Mike was at a barn party in Winneconne. He got into a car with a man who authorities later discovered had both alcohol and marijuana in his system. He was also a multiple drunk driving offender. The car hit a light pole, flipped and landed on its roof.
Just 18 years old, Mike was left behind by the driver, who ran away. Mike died of his injuries. The driver is now serving a 25-year sentence.
A walk of remembrance
As the third anniversary of Mike’s death approaches, his mother, Karen Behl, Rob and their family are planning to celebrate Mike’s life on Sept. 9 with “Spread Your Wings: A 5K Walk in Memory of Michael Janasik.”
The walk raised $7,000 last year, and Karen said she hopes they can raise the same, if not more, this year. All proceeds benefit the Fox Point-Bayside Educational Foundation.
“Michael loved Bayside,” Karen said. “And with the school cutbacks and money, we thought it’d be more meaningful to do it for his memory. He loved Stormonth, he was so happy there.”
This year, the walk will begin with registration and packet pickup at 10 a.m. and the walk at 11 a.m. There will also be a post-walk celebration at 1:30 p.m., rain or shine.
The cost is $25 for an individual, $100 for teams of five and $175 for a team of 10. Families with children can register for just $60 and all participants receive a Spread Your Wings T-shirt and lunch.
"It's this community that makes me always want to stay here. The way people help each other and want to volunteer," Behl said. "It was amazing to me when he died, how many people from the schools, the parents — Nicolet, Bayside, St. Robert, Stormonth — brought food here for way over a month. I thought, all of us have eaten better than we have in a long time."
'The kind of kid he was....'
Displayed across the back of the family room are posters that were made by all of Mike’s friends when he died. Behl said many of his friends still come by just to look at the pictures and remember Mike.
On one of the posters it says, “Mike’s Favorite Award.” This was given to him by the Bayside Middle School principal for Mike’s altruistic attitude, because he helped out anyone he could, any time.
“That community award was hanging in his room the day he died. He loved that award,” Behl said. And Mike’s philanthropic outlook continued throughout his life, she said.
When he was in middle school, it was his turn to be team captain for soccer at recess. Karen said there was a girl there who always wanted to be the goalie but rarely even got chosen to play. But that day, Michael picked her first and said, "You can be the goalie."
“That dad actually said something to me at the funeral,” Behl said. “How much that meant to him because his daughter was so excited to come home and say that she was hardly ever picked to be on the team, or picked last, and here she got picked first and got to be the goalie. That’s the kind of kid he was.”
While Karen said they talk about Mike every day, it’s not always easy. But even at just 11 years old, Karen said it’s Rob’s words — "How would Mike want you to be?" — that bring her back.
“We all have bad days,” she said. “But we all get each other through it.”