Mitzvot from the heart: Ryan Lutker, B’nai El Congregation

Ryan Lutker, son of Lesley and Ray Lutker of St. Louis, dedicated his bar mitzvah project to his elementary school teacher, Nancy Stephenson, who passed away from cancer. He worked with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, an organization committed to finding cures for all childhood cancer.

During the B’nai El Purim carnival last year Ryan set up and ran a lemonade stand, generating over $100. He also put together several mini-lemonade stands that were located in Simon Kohn’s, Pumpernickels, The Source, and the B’nai El gift shop. Ryan checked in weekly, replacing full stands with new, empty stands. Donations were also solicited by way of email to friends and relatives.  All sales and donations totaled more than $400.

A student at Parkway Northeast Middle School, Ryan wrote a memoir about his amazing teacher. “I want her legend to be known,” he said. Following is an excerpt of Ryan’s memoir titled “Ladybugs”:

“I won’t stop teaching, not for anything,” my third grade teacher, Mrs. Stephenson, would always say whenever someone suggested for her to retire due to her severe cancer diagnosis. This would always make me smile. Even though she was often in pain, she always put others first, and was always grinning. She was very friendly; not just towards people, but towards animals too. But her funny obsession and unusual fondness of ladybugs is what made her unique….

“I remembered the day I met her; her beaming smile, soft blue eyes, and her curly blonde hair bouncing off her shoulders. I remembered all I had learned from her… I remembered all the laughs she shared in class with us, and I remembered how she always made sure to say goodbye on Fridays, before she left to get her weekly injection….

“One summer day, Mrs. Stephenson passed away. Her battle against cancer had ended, and she was defeated. But it is not over, her memory lives on. Now, every time I see a ladybug, I close my eyes and smile, and think of my dear teacher, Mrs. Stephenson.”

For more information about Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, go to