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Hundreds Mourn Plainview's Spencer Reis at Funeral

Young man's perseverance against all odds will be one of his legacies.

Spencer Reis graduated from Tuesday.

His principal, James Murray, conferred Spencer's degree at the Plainview freshman's mid-day funeral. Hundreds of his classmates and a grieving community wept openly at the gesture.

The honorary diploma was altogether fitting, because Murray and other educators and friends who spoke Tuesday said they learned far more from Spencer than they could ever impart to him.

A standing-room crowd of more than 700 people bid farewell to at the . Speaker after speaker told how the 14-year-old who loved animals and sports and clowning around impacted their lives. They recounted his infectious smile and the way he thanked people for the smallest of tasks, even as he lay dying from the effects of cancer.

And, they vowed to never forget him. They said they were made better by knowing him.

"You have inspired us to great things," said Murray. "We will not let you down."

, the synagogue's spiritual leader, opened the hushed service with a reading from Ecclesiastes 3. "A time to be born and a time to die...a time for weeping and a time to laugh...a time to mourn, and a time to dance...."

Many will ask, said Rabbi Conn, why God would take this boy from his family and friends so young:

"We want something to make sense of this terrible pain, to make this unendurable ordeal bearable," he said. "Instead we should look where Spencer looked, to the synagogue, to The Book, but mostly in the lives of others, the hope and grace of the people around him."

Michele Schaefer was Spencer's Spanish teacher at She recalled him as the kid "always carrying a stack of books bigger than him," who was fascinated by her efforts to gain a doctorate in education. He wanted to travel the world, and perhaps one day be a veterinarian. She is dedicating her dissertation to him.

"You have taught me much more than I could have ever taught you," she said from the bimah. "You are a true fighter and never gave up...When I become Doctor Schaefer, he will become 'Doctor Reis.' "

His brothers and friends described how scrappy Spencer was, small in stature yet a giant of character and courage.

"I'm proud to call Spencer my friend," said the president of the Freshman class of 2016 and a teammate on a local soccer travel team. "He was always spirited, energetic and he'd try with all his might. He would say there was always a chance to win."

Murray told how Spencer attended an open-mike night at the high school recently and did an impersonation of one of his favorite teachers, Dorothy Kleinman, who also spoke fondly of him Tuesday.

When Spencer's performance was finished, the teen removed his wig to reveal the damage done to his body by cancer treatments.

"He was fearless; he taught us how to embrace life and accept death," said Murray.

Amid such grief there were moments of laughter: Spencer's brothers recalled his playful pranks and how the older boys would swing Spencer around by his limbs like a rag doll.

"He was so scrappy. He gave everything he had," said brother Josh Reis. "I just love him; that's all."

"I love you little buddy," said Ryan Reis, standing above his brother's casket. "I'll see you soon."

Marian Hershkowitz April 19, 2012 at 03:02 PM
My grandchildren have been friends with Spencer since pre school at The Mid-Island Y. They grew up to celebrate their Bar-Bat Mitzvahs with each other in 2010 and were now still together as freshmen at JFK High School this year. We are so saddened that this special young life was cut short by Cancer. Spencer put up a valiant fight. We will always remember him!!
Jeff Reis April 23, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Spencer, Gabe's mom told me something about you today. She said that you were the only one of Gabe's friends to wish her Mazel Tov and thank her for inviting you to the Bar Mitzvah. You have always been so special, we miss you so much. Love, Dad
Jeff Reis April 23, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Thank you Laurie, Eddie, and Jaclyn
Joe Dowd April 23, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Mr. Reis: Your son has been and will continue to be an inspiration to all of us. My heart goes out to you and your entire family.
Ira Minkoff April 23, 2012 at 12:17 PM
You were a wonderfil young man Spencer. It was a pleasure for me to have known you. You will be in my heart always. Ira Minkoff

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