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Johnson County 

Lifestyle Magazine 

Triumph Over Tragedy

Article Lisa Gartland | Photography Susan Motley

Sydney Lutz remembers spending special time with her mom as a preschooler while big sister, Mackenzie, was at school. Sydney and her mom delivered meals to the elderly through the Meals on Wheels program. She recalls that she had her own nametag and that her mom allowed her to ring the doorbell when they arrived at each house. What the little girl could not have realized was that her mom’s health was often more precarious than those they were serving.

Sydney is now 15 and finishing her freshman year at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School. Mackenzie has just turned 18, and the excitement of high school graduation and college days are just around the corner. However, their mom, Kelly, is not here to celebrate their milestones. Sydney was not even two and Mackenzie was four when Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kelly battled the disease for nine years and there were times when it appeared she had won the fight. But it recurred time and time again, finally taking her life on May 9, 2008.

During Kelly’s illness and at the time of her death, the girls and her husband, Shane, were touched and inspired by the overwhelming outpouring of love and support toward their family. They wanted to find a way to harness that positive energy so that good could flow from this tragedy. After much brainstorming, the family and some close friends decided to create The Kelly Lynn Lutz Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

Kelly was a teacher and a stay at home mom. Educating her daughters was a high priority for her. It is fitting that the vision of the foundation is to award scholarships to college bound children who have lost a parent to cancer. Mackenzie and Sydney are honorary board members of the foundation. They are not old enough or experienced enough quite yet to run the organization, but they are learning and contributing in exciting ways as they and the foundation grow up together.

To date, there have been seven scholarship recipients. The first recipient is now in her final year of college, and it is rewarding to see how the scholarships have helped people who have suffered similar losses. Information about the application process can be found at

The foundation’s third annual family-friendly 5K run/walk will be held on May 6. The race, called “Triumph Over Tragedy,” is one of three fundraisers held throughout the year. They are delighted that this year the race will be held at Garmin World Headquarters in Olathe for the first time. This change allows for growth of the race for years to come. The foundation’s goal this year is 750 participants. Anyone can register for the race at

When asked when preparations started for the 5K run/walk each year, both girls answered in unison, “The day after the last race is over!” It is expected that the funds raised at the race next month will push the sum total of donations past the $250,000 mark. They are eagerly looking forward to that achievement.

The Lutz sisters keep busy with various foundation duties including the unglamorous job of stuffing envelopes. They bounce ideas off their dad and act as a sounding board for him as well. They get the word out to students at school through the Key Club, a service organization at Aquinas, and many students earn service hours volunteering at the organization’s fundraisers. They are always looking for more volunteers. Anyone interested can email for more information.

Shane says, “We are planting seeds for the future and the girls are bringing the next generation.” As typical teenagers, the girls are experts in social media, using it to keep people up to date on foundation events.

Some traditions have begun for the family. The first four participant numbers in the race are reserved for Kelly (#1), Shane (#2), Mackenzie (#3) and Sydney (#4). They take some quiet family time the night before the race and run the course themselves. The girls chalk inspirational sayings on the race path such as, “Run for Kelly,” “You’re almost there,” and “Thank you!”

Shane explains that the grief of losing their mom at such young ages will always be with Mackenzie and Sydney but will change as they continue to grow up. They will always miss her; there is no way around that. But he believes that they have found and will continue to find a positive and productive outlet for that grief in the foundation that will continue their mom’s spirit of giving.

Kurt Ewert, board member and longtime family friend, says that the foundation has been able to keep expenses around one percent, enabling 99 percent to go to scholarship awards. Ewert has known Mackenzie and Sydney since the day each was born. He says they have grown into beautiful, smart young ladies who are becoming independent little by little, as kids should.

“Kelly would be hugely proud,” he says. Sydney is involved in Key Club, track, field hockey and is on the principal’s honor roll at school. She likes to hang out with her friends, babysit and is a fan of professional football.

Mackenzie has also been very active in her high school, involved in multiple activities and has had much academic success. She is a National Honor Society officer and is a student ambassador at the school. She is planning to study architecture and interior design at Kansas State in the fall. Mackenzie has many fond memories of her mom’s selflessness. She smiles as she remembers that on Mother’s Day, Kelly always wanted to take the girls to Worlds of Fun. Most of the time, she could not go on rides with the girls because of her health, but wanted to go just because she knew how much they loved it.

Mackenzie and Sydney are thankful that so many people have donated their time and talent to this organization that honors their mother. The family is especially grateful for the board members Kurt Ewert, John Van Blaricum, Doug Spencer and Shelley Gundrey. Their hard work and dedication have greatly contributed to the current success and have created a solid foundation for future success of the Kelly Lynn Lutz Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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