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Born to persevere

Shelby Kaufer hasn’t let medical issues slow her down. (Republican Eagle photo by Amanda Greenwood)

ELLSWORTH — A week before Ellsworth High School’s commencement, senior Shelby Kaufer made her way through the EHS halls dressed for “formal day,” unaware of the busy morning of academic recognition ahead.

A top-ten student for Ellsworth, she was welcomed into the office by family members, high school principal Mark Stoesz, representatives of local media and Shannon Nichols, the general manager of the Ellsworth McDonald’s who presented Kaufer with a $1,500 scholarship award from the Ronald McDonald House Foundation.

Principal Stoesz congratulated Kaufer, saying that she was the only Ellsworth student that he knew of to receive the award.

Kaufer is the eldest daughter of Steve and Cheryl Kaufer and the sister of Kayla, Rachel and Bethany, all of Ellsworth.

Born Aug. 23, 1995, with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, Kaufer was recovering from a heart transplant at a mere 10 weeks old due to the left side of her heart not developing properly.

Her dad recalled the seven weeks of living in the Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis, Missouri, following the surgery:

“It became our home away from home. We were welcomed and treated very nicely there,” Steve said.

He recalled the stress involved with picking up roots in Ellsworth to live in St. Louis for almvost two months under the medical circumstances with their first child and the humble demeanor his oldest has developed despite numerous challenges since.

“I do not see my transplant as an obstacle because I have never known anything different from it,” Kaufer said.

She acknowledged there have been “setbacks and challenges these past 18 years with missing school for various medical appointments and blood draws … and some extended hospital stays.”

“I’ve had to take the responsibility at a young age of getting my own homework and class materials done ahead of time for missing school … making up homework, labs, tests and other class activities has thrown a couple curve balls at me from time to time, but that has never stopped me from wanting to learn,” she said. “Unlike a lot of other ‘normal kids,’ I absolutely love school. I love learning and being in a class.”

She highlighted that, along with her parents, several teachers from elementary through high school have made academic success possible despite medical absences.

“I have to be very conscientious of illnesses going around since my immune system is not as strong as most kids’. I have had to be pulled out of school a few times to avoid serious sickness,” she said.

Various illnesses

In second grade, Kaufer was hospitalized for chicken pox and then lived with her grandparents for three weeks to make sure it had not spread to her siblings.

“My teachers were very understanding, and my elementary principal, Miss McCoy, even came and visited me in the hospital. She gave me a teddy bear, which I still have to this day,” Kaufer said. “My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Gardas, was also very supportive and kept contact with my mom and dad (for assignments).”

Kaufer was also pulled out of school to avoid a whooping cough outbreak during her sixth-grade year and the H1N1 virus in eighth grade.

Next year, Kaufer will attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. She based her decision on the proximity to home and reasonable tuition along with the school’s reputable science program, she said. She plans on working toward a bachelor’s degree in applied science or dietetics.

“I am very interested in science, primarily biology and human anatomy,” she said. “Mrs. (Ellen) Goodman has helped inspire my interest in science. She was extremely helpful when I missed class and offered to stay late after school to help me make up missed experiments or dissections.”

Kaufer also expressed gratitude for her influential math teacher, Mary Rumpel.

“She is a terrific math teacher and head of our math department. I first had Algebra II with her, and she later convinced me to take calculus. After calculus, she helped me through AP Calculus and the AP test. She helped me persevere and believe I could do things I thought were beyond me,” Kaufer said.

Along with graduating with the school’s “highest honors” award, Kaufer is involved in Ellsworth High School’s:

•National Honor Society

•International Club (traveling to both Italy and France)

•Mentor Program

•Math League

•Arrive Alive (teaching freshmen about the dangers of drinking and/or texting while driving)


•Band and marching band (playing flute).

“Shelby has been in band all four years of high school,” band director John Kleppe said. “She has worked hard and often gone beyond her requirements by playing in the pit band for our musicals, going to all pep band performances when only a few are required, or signing up to play in both bands and giving up a study hall. I have really enjoyed having her as a student.”


Noteworthy recognitions include lettering in band (sophomore year) and academics (sophomore through senior year) and receiving the “most versatile” award (from theater director Shelly Moore) as well as “stage manager award” (sophomore year).

Kaufer credits Moore for helping her “become more confident” in herself and abilities.

“Working backstage with her has helped me become more responsible,” Kaufer said.

Outside of school walls, Kaufer is equally busy, participating in St. Francis Catholic Church youth group and the Fancy Doers 4-H Club. She has served as her club’s president and vice president and is currently the historian.

Senior year has been her favorite of the last 12 academic years due to both the challenges of her classes and trust from staff, she said. But, the main reason senior year has been memorable is because she took her “best advice received” to heart:

“Get involved and have fun … My mom and dad have constantly reminded me to enjoy this time of my life … We had a great football season, and I attended every game with my friends. This was incredibly fun because we had never before had such a winning streak … All of the main players were guys I knew, some even from kindergarten,” she said.

‘Have fun’

She advises next year’s seniors to “Have fun and get to know one another better.”

“You are with the people in your grade for one more year, and that’s it. I know planning for college is tough and all the AP classes, tests, placement tests and applications can get overwhelming but always find time for family and friends. Making memories and having a good time is also very important,” she said.

Equally important to success are personal perseverance and a support system. Kauder said her parents have been her biggest advocates.

“They have been the most understanding, flexible and caring people I know, and it is because of them I have accomplish so much academically and as a person.”

Class of 2014

Who: The Panthers

How many: 139

When: 7 p.m. Friday May 23

Where: Ellsworth High School gymnasium