While waiting for a class full of kindergartners to arrive in the gym at Kae Avenue Elementary School, teacher Casey Whitlatch leaned back in his chair as he talked about a his wife, who is awaiting a liver transplant.
It's a difficult subject. His wife, Patty, has been sick for nearly a year, spending half her summer in a hospital room at Ohio State University.
He and his three children have rallied around her and have given her the support she needs to get up each morning and face the day, said Whitlatch, who has been a physical-education teacher for nearly 20 years.
What Whitlatch did not expect, he said, was the help he has received from two local communities that have come to the family's need with more support than he or his wife could have imagined.
"It's been a journey, but I've had a lot of support," he said last week from his office at the new Kae Avenue Elementary School. "It makes me feel good -- the fact that my circle is bigger than I thought."
Whitlatch grew up in Whitehall and graduated from Whitehall Yearling High School. He's coached and taught in the district for some 20 years.
In the late 1990s, he and his wife, a Gahanna native, moved to Canal Winchester in hopes of finding a small town where they could raise their children. While there, he also found himself coaching football for both of his sons. His oldest later joined him, coaching the seventh-grade boys team. Whitlatch coaches the eighth-grade football team.
When Whitlatch's wife became sick, both Whitehall and Canal Winchester rallied around the family with meals, T-shirts and a benefit to help defray the costs of Patty's medications and medical bills.
Teachers and staff members have shown their support in Whitehall -- at all the schools -- wearing their white T-shirts in support of Patty. Students in Canal Winchester also have worn T-shirts in support of Whitlatch's wife and family, at school and at football games.
The two communities' combined support is even bigger.
Heather Kramer, Whitlatch's former student and babysitter who is now married with her own children in Canal Winchester, organized a benefit with the family's blessing. She formed a committee to plan the event, including Michelle Ray, a physical education teacher at Rosemore Middle School.
"I absolutely love his family," Ray said. "It feels so good to be able to give back."
She said Whitehall's teachers and staff have been overwhelmingly supportive of Whitlatch and his family, from the superintendent on down. In fact, when she first sent an email message about the benefit, selling T-shirts and raffle tickets, her inbox was flooded.
"Everyone was all for it from the start," she said. "I was floored at the response. I am so proud to work in this district, without a doubt."
Kramer said getting the word out on Facebook has been a big help in planning the benefit. It's her goal to sell 1,000 raffle tickets, and she's confident they will get there.
Kramer, who also is a Whitehall Yearling graduate, said Canal Winchester is a very tight-knit community. The support for the Whitlatch family and the benefit has been overwhelming, she said, but not surprising.
Just last week, the family received word that a liver was available. As Whitlatch pulled his family together and rushed his wife to the hospital, his adrenaline ran high. But after Patty was settled and prepped, they found out that the liver had gone to someone else. It was a scenario for which they were prepared, but it was tough to face, regardless.
"It was disappointing," Whitlatch said. "I was kind of stingy; I wanted it. But I also know the sicker person needs it."
They returned home to wait for another call.
The news spread throughout both communities, launching a flurry of tears and well-wishes.
Whitlatch said it also has been tough on his three children, two in college and one a senior at Canal Winchester. Still, they continue to fight alongside their mother.
The benefit for Patty Whitlatch will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, in the Canal Winchester High School cafeteria.
The event will feature a reverse raffle, concessions, entertainment, a bake sale and a silent auction.
Tickets for the raffle are available at Roosters in Whitehall and will be on sale until 1 p.m. the day of the event.
Monetary donations also may be made on Whitlatch's behalf at PNC Bank.