Magic show fundraiser sees large turnout for Abbot-Downing teacher with ALS

  • Ethan Barry, 3, watches the magic show from the back of the room with his dad, Jeff, at Abbot-Downing School in Concord on Sunday. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

  • Magician Mike Bent shows off a trick at Abbot-Downing School on Sunday. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

  • Stephanie Bates (middle in blue), an Abbot-Downing teacher diagnosed with ALS in the fall, watches the magic show from the front row at Abbot-Downing School on Sunday, April 17, 2016. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, April 17, 2016

Magic was met with laughs and cheers in the Abbot-Downing School gymnasium Sunday afternoon for a fundraiser to benefit teacher Stephanie Bates, who was diagnosed with ALS in the fall.

Tickets were a hot item with performers from across the country on the bill and a live jazz performance before the magic show. Abbot-Downing Principal Kathleen Riordan reported more than 600 tickets were sold before the doors even opened.

“I wish I had words to describe it,” Bates said of the turnout and support she’s received. “It’s overwhelmingly amazing.”

Plans for the event started taking shape about three months ago. Riordan’s husband, the magician Bob Riordan who was the show’s emcee, pulled in a few of his friends from the business: Mike Bent, Jon Stetson, and illusionist David Garrity.

The gymnasium was filled with children and parents, many wearing blue “Stephanie Spirit” T-shirts that were sold as part of the fundraiser. Proceeds from food sales and magic kits were also passed forward to the Stephanie Spirit ALS Fund.

“It’s amazing that through such tragedy people can come together and focus on the positives, focus on Stephanie’s spirt,” Kathleen Riordan said. “That’s what this is about.”

Bates, an assistant educator at Abbot-Downing since 2001, is married and has three children. A GoFundMe page for her was created in late January and has already accumulated more than $4,700 in donations.

ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease, is a disorder involving the death of neurons, with symptoms such as muscle stiffness and difficulty moving and speaking. There is no known cure for the disease.

Bates has lost most use of the right arm to the disease. She can still walk, but that too will eventually grow in difficulty. But ALS didn’t keep Bates from smiling as she watched the hundreds of children laugh and jump with excitement as the magicians showed off their illusions. She’ll continue to work until her body won’t allow it.

“It keeps me going. It gives me purpose,” Bates said of her work. “The kids keep me going, my coworkers, my family.”

Bates tries to stay out of the spotlight. The special attention like she saw on Sunday can be a bit overwhelming. From the event’s inception, Bates made it clear she did not want to be the focal point of the day.

That’s the kind of teacher she is, Riordan said. Selfless, compassionate, focused on the children and helping them as an educator and supporter.

“She’s patient and intrinsically altruistic,” Riordan said. “She’s the reason that some kids make it through their day. Some of the kids who just need a hug or a smile or a firm face to remind them that they have a job to do, she knows which one to give.

“She builds relationships with the children,” Riordan added. “There isn’t a child in this building that doesn’t know who Ms. Bates is.”

Fundraising figures from Sunday’s event were not available by press time. Donations can be made to support Bates online at gofundme.com/mazada9s.


(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3314, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)