AMBOY – Students were more excited than usual to get to Amboy Junior High School Thursday morning. In addition to being an early dismissal day, an assembly unlike any other was scheduled.
They got to shave a teacher’s hair off.
Sixth-grade social studies teacher Allen Duerksen walked around the gym with a floppy pink sun hat atop his shoulder-length, curly hair as students filed in, most wearing pink in support of Cancer Awareness Month.
His hair was sectioned off in small ponytails around his head. His wife Peggy, a two-time cancer survivor, couldn’t contain her smile as her husband took center stage.
Each year, sixth-grade students work on a community service project. This year they are raising money for the American Cancer Society.
Duerksen asked everyone who knew someone who had died from cancer to please stand. Many in the crowd rose to their feet.
“Look around. Now, how many of you know someone who survived cancer?”
A smaller, yet significant number remained standing.
“This is why we are doing this,” Duerksen said. “It is everywhere, and it’s gotten to be overwhelming,” he said over the thunderous applause.
Raffle tickets were sold for $1 each, and winners then drawn. One-by-one, winning students and staff enthusiastically approached with scissors in hand.
The reality of the moment had set in for Duerksen.
“People have been asking me all week if I was nervous, and I wasn’t until right now.”
Once the ponytails were cut, the clippers came out, along with the giggles. The ponytails will be sent to Locks of Love.
Students were assisted by hairdresser and mom, Kirsten Donna. A number was called for each swipe of the razor. Each student approached with laughter, taking the razor to his hair. Fake groans ensued, making students laugh even harder.
“What a start, you guys have already raised $360!” he said.
A few months ago, when Duerksen had asked his class what type of project they wanted to work on this year, there was no hesitation – they wanted to show support for people faced with cancer.
A past project saw the students raise hundreds of dollars for Operation Migration. Whooping cranes take a path from Wisconsin to Florida that cuts right through Lee County. Duerksen said it was an opportunity to teach students about the birds and geography, all while giving back to nature.
Two years ago, the class raised hundreds of dollars that went to the Joplin, Mo. Tornado Relief Fund. Duerksen spent his junior high years in Joplin.
The latest fundraiser ends in December.
In his other life as a musician, Duerksen’s long hair served him well. He has played in rock bands since 1975, and now plays electric bass for Rat Baxter. His bandmates have never seen him with short hair, but he has no doubt he will still “head-bang” with the best of them.
Duerksen said it’s been 10 years since his last drastic haircut. While he thinks it looks “weird”, he says it was worth it.
You can help
To contribute to the students' fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, make checks payable to Amboy Junior High School and mail or drop them off at the school office at 140 S. Appleton Ave., Amboy IL 61310. Write “Sixth grade community service project” in the memo line.