BELLEFONTE - When Margaret and Michael Herbstritt's son died, a big part of them went with him.
The whole family was in a state of shock that has lasted to this day, nearly two years since Jeremy Herbstritt was killed during the Virginia Tech University massacre in April 2007.
But this family has chosen to celebrate Jeremy's memory by focusing on the many happy times they shared with him.
Margaret Herbstritt, who attended last night's Bellefonte Area School Board meeting, smiles lovingly when she recalls her favorite memories of Jeremy and his high-energy nature that left such a strong impression on his family and friends.
Jeremy was pursuing a graduate degree in civil engineering at Virginia Tech when his life was prematurely ended by Cho Seung-Hui, who went on a rampage in the early morning hours of April 16, 2007, shooting and killing 32 students before he committed suicide.
A Bellefonte Area High School student who went on to Penn State University before going to Virginia Tech, Jeremy was an active member of the high school track and cross country teams as a teenager.
Running was one of Jeremy's passions and, although he didn't join collegiate track teams, he and his sister, Jennifer, often ran in 5k races most of which were held to benefit various non-profit organizations and foundations.
"They (Jeremy and Jennifer) were very active in fundraisers. I think running was very good for Jeremy physically, emotionally and academically," Margaret said. "He always had a lot of energy."
"He always said he did his thinking when he ran," long-time family friend Elda Mulfinger said.
The family has been holding fundraisers since Jeremy's death and now wants to donate money to the school district for its new track. The track is part of a larger athletic complex the board envisions for the future.
"It will be a great way to keep his (Jeremy's) memory alive," Margaret said. "My husband, children and I all love track and field and would love to support the Bellefonte track."
Last fall, the school board announced its intention to move ahead with a plan to acquire about 60 acres from a local property owner to expand soccer, softball and baseball fields, to upgrade and slightly move the football stadium and build a track around that field, which has been called "an embarrassment and a safety issue" by School Board President Robert Lumley-Sapanski.
About two years ago, area resident David Litkey approached the board to offer three parcels for sale. The land is near the high school athletic field, but not adjacent to the district property.
In November, school district Solicitor Scott Etter and Business Manager Ken Bean were negotiating a price with the Litkey family and intended to offer about $1.8 million for the land.
But now the district has found itself using eminent domain to acquire the land.
"Until we actually have the property, we don't want to start fundraising. We've been shopping and trying to get this done for a couple of years now and we're hoping that within the next couple of weeks we will be able to move ahead," Lumley-Sapanski said, adding that the new athletic complex will become a "top priority" for the district once land is acquired.
"This board is committed to updating our athletic facilities and once we have secured the land this process will go much faster," board member George Stone said.
"We have to look at the overall plan to see where things are going to go. Nothing is set in stone yet," Lumley-Sapanski added.
But the Herbstritt family is determined to keep working to raise money and contribute to the track in honor of Jeremy.
"This is something that could come to fruition and we would like to continue holding races to raise money," Margaret said. "We're going to be optimistic about the track. We really want this to be part of the school because Jeremy was alumni."
The family's dream is to see the track perhaps named after their son, Margaret said, adding with a smile that she's pretty sure Jeremy would have scoffed at the idea.
"He was very humble so I don't know if he would want it (the track) named after him," she said. "He would have helped in any way he could, but he would have said, 'no, no, don't name it after me.' He was too humble."
Soon after Jeremy's death, the Herbstritts established the Herbie's Home "Town Loop" fundraiser, which has become an annual 4-mile run/walk, 16-mile bike ride and 2-mile canoe/kayak paddle held each August to raise money in Jeremy's memory.
"We started having the race in August because of the Bellefonte Arts and Crafts Fair," Margaret said. "There are always a lot of people in town for the fair because it's a family oriented activity and the race is a family oriented activity so it was the perfect time."
"It's really become a big event," added Jeremy's cousin and life-long friend, Katie Meier.
"It's been really successful so far and Kim Gasper, the race director, has been a main catalyst in getting the fundraiser going," Margaret said.
Gasper is a teacher and assistant coach for the track and field team at Bellefonte high. The tentative date for this year's race is Aug. 15. For more information about Herbie's Home "Town Loop" visit www.herbiehtl.googlepages.com.
And at 6 p.m. on April 16, the Penn State Civil Engineering Department is holding a race to benefit a scholarship in Jeremy's memory. Jeremy graduated from Penn State with a degree in molecular biology before heading to Virginia Tech.
"They don't have many evening runs but they wanted to do this because it's the anniversary of when Jeremy was killed," Margaret said.